A Race to Adapt:
The Climate Crisis in the Sahel
A Chadian girl’s daily journey to collect water illustrates how the climate crisis is affecting her community.
The Central Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, a sub-region in West and Central Africa that includes six countries, is at the frontline of the global climate crisis. Temperatures have increased significantly in recent decades and are projected to rise another 3-6 degrees by the end of the 21st century unless urgent action is taken.1
Extreme poverty, conflict, the exploitation of natural resources and economic dependence on agriculture and pastoralism make the Sahel particularly susceptible to climate change. Rising temperatures can lead to increased conflict, displacement, and food shortages, making life difficult for already-vulnerable populations. In 2021, almost 29 million Sahelians are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance, 5 million more people than the previous year.2
Follow the journey of 12-year-old Zara* in western Chad as she walks 10 kilometers (roughly 6 miles) each day to collect water for her family as they adapt to a rapidly changing climate.
Zara and her family were forced to relocate a few years ago after a severe drought in Chad’s Lac province. Since 2008, almost 800,000 people have been displaced in Chad due to climate-related disasters. Many more are using migration as an adaptation strategy.
In Zara’s village, the nearest source of water is 5 kilometers away. On average, women in rural Africa walk 6 kilometers a day to collect water, though for some the distance is much longer.3
As she starts her journey for water, Zara passes a dried up river bed. In Chad, frequent droughts have resulted in dwindling supplies of water. Floods have also become more common since the 1990s as dry, sandy lands are unable to absorb rainfall.
Since 2008, nearly 7 million people in Chad have been affected by droughts and floods.4 These shocks displace communities, destroy livelihoods and undermine economic development. In 2020 alone, 20 out of 23 provinces in Chad were impacted by floods.5
After walking one kilometer, Zara passes farmland that has been trampled by the livestock of pastoralists forced to migrate south before crops could be harvested. Changing weather patterns and decreased availability of resources have disrupted traditional migration routes for pastoralists. More frequent and extreme weather events also increase food insecurity and malnutrition by destroying land, livestock, crops and food supplies.
In 2021, more than one million people in Chad are struggling with crisis levels of food insecurity and almost three million more are estimated to be under stress. 6
After walking for 1.5 hours through the difficult terrain, Zara reaches the borehole. She fills her container with 15 litres of water (weighing roughly 15 kilograms) and prepares for the 5 kilometer journey back home. Zara is tired but has no time to rest as she needs to hurry back to avoid missing school.
“The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win.”
Climate change is an existential threat to humanity. Every day we witness its impact on the world’s most vulnerable people, such as girls like Zara, her family, and the communities of farmers and pastoralists she passes along her journey.
Without ambitious action to help countries and communities adapt to climate change, the humanitarian toll will increase exponentially. Humanitarian assistance can help address the impacts of climate-related emergencies, but a massive increase in global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change and reduce the risk of disasters is critical to contain the suffering.
Follow the links below to add your voice to the global campaign for #TheHumanRace and get inspired by stories of how communities around the world are taking action to adapt to the climate crisis.