Refugees visit a bombed-out village near their former homes in North Darfur.© PHOTOS SHANE BAUER
Most of the tensions between refugees and local Chadians have fallen on women, says Hyba. "Wood and water collection is normally assigned to women. They have to travel quite a far distance, leading to incidences of sexual- or gender-based violence."
In Treguine, another of East Chad’s 12 camps, a refugee and 20-year-old mother of two whose name has been withheld for her protection, says she and other women are too afraid to collect wood anymore. "I was beaten by a group of men while I was searching for wood," she says, downcast eyes searching the sand floor of her shack. "There were three of them and they had a gun. Then after they beat me, they raped me."
The appointed leader of Treguine camp, Ishaq Haron, speaks with poise and self-assurance when describing atrocities in Darfur, but when he talks about the refugees" current situation, his voice cracks. "In Sudan, the Janjaweed [Arab militias] would attack women, beat them, and rape them and here we deal with the same thing."
Liz Lucas, spokesperson for the international relief agency Oxfam, which works on water sanitation in Chad and Darfur, says both Darfur and East Chad face the same environmental challenges. A recent report coauthored by Oxfam says climate change impacts Africa more than many other regions of the world because of widespread poverty, disease and people’s daily dependence on natural resources. "Climate change is where it begins," Lucas says. In Darfur, increasingly drier climates and desertification have forced the mostly Arab nomadic pastoralists to graze their livestock on the agricultural lands and pastures of the mostly black non-nomadic populations, leading to repeated conflicts over the past 30 years.
But Lucas says there is more to the current crisis. "The Darfur conflict is not happening because of resource scarcity, but it intensifies [the problems in] the already troubled region." According to refugees, when armed rebel groups rose up in Darfur demanding that the Sudanese government end the political and economic marginalization of their people, President Omar Al-Bashir exploited the pre-existing resource conflicts by arming, financing, and training Arab tribes to target civilian populations. "The drier and the worse it gets there," says Lucas, "the more these already marginalized groups will have to fight for their livelihoods."
CARE’s Hyba says in East Chad it is only a matter of time before resource competition between locals and refugees erupts into inter-communal conflict. "In a couple of years, if the refugees are still here, I would imagine that a lot of the peace-building activities would probably be around deadwood collection," she says.
The border between Sudan and Chad is becoming increasingly undefined as the Darfur crisis pulls Chad further into its fold, according to UNHCR’s Conway. "In certain areas, Darfur has arrived in Chad," he says.
In Darfur, bombs have been dropped on huts and rape used as a weapon. Some 200,000 to 400,000 have been killed and more than 2.5 million have fled and still hope for immediate return. In the end, the solution to the looming environmental crisis in Chad and Darfur is the same one that will stop the genocide. The Sudanese government has to agree to a just peace that will allow people to safely return home and spread once again across the delicate landscape.