Drought Forces Desert Nomads to Settle Down

Desert Nomads

by Richard Harris

Morning Edition, July 2, 2007 · Climate change threatens ice sheets and ecosystems, but it also threatens human cultures.

For centuries, the Tuareg people have lived as nomads, herding their animals from field to field just south of the Sahara Desert in Mali, near Timbuktu.

"Our life is basically the animals we have, so we protect them and we feed them," says Mohamed Ag Mustafa, a herder living the traditional nomadic lifestyle. "Whenever we need tea or grain or clothes, we take an animal to the market and sell it and buy something."

But this way of life has become impossible due to a change in the climate.

Over the past 40 years, persistent drought has forced the Tuareg to give up their wandering way of life. To survive they have had to start settling in villages and cultivating land to secure a food supply which is less susceptible to drought.

Preserving Culture

CARE is an international humanitarian organization working to alleviate poverty. Uwe Korus, director of programs for CARE in Mali, visits the town of Er-Intedjeft near Timbuktu, where he is greeted warmly. He is here to learn what the Tuareg need in order to make the rapid and jarring transition to a new way of life. One of the big questions on Korus' mind is whether the Tuareg can retain their ancient culture.

The Tuareg welcome Korus with a mishwee, a traditional feast like they used to have in the desert. They build a fire in a sand pit, and when the sand gets scorching hot, they bury a sheep carcass in it. After the sheep has roasted, they blow off sand still clinging it and bring it over to straw mats laid out under rust-colored tents they erected for their guests.

As the women look on, the men of the village sit around the main dish along with Korus and the others from CARE. After the men are through eating, the bones are cleared away for the children and women to pick over, and the Tuareg sit down and talk for hours. They tell the people from CARE about their struggle to settle down. The nomads say they need to learn to farm, they need clean water, health care and veterinary care for their animals.

Welcoming Change

Mohammad Ag Mata, the chief of Er-Intedjeft , is in his mid-60s and appears frail. He is resolute about his decision to give up his nomadic ways.

Mohammad Ag Mata says droughts are responsible for the shift in the Tuareg lifestyle. He used to have 200 head of cattle, but they all died in droughts in the 1970s and '80s. "If it hadn't been for a little money I stole from my father and saved, we would have starved," he says.

Jacob Aromar also lives in Er-Intedjeft. Aromar is not a herder like his forefathers, but a school teacher. He points out the changes taking place all around him, such as the Tuareg homes which used to be tents, but are now built with mud bricks they make by the river.

The Tuareg diet has changed from one of meat and cheese to one with more grains and vegetables, and they still have a lot to learn about growing crops. A pump was donated so the town can draw water from the nearby Niger River and irrigate tomatoes, rice and potatoes. However the pump is not working because no one has been trained to use it.

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Africa: Water Is A Right, Not a Business

I am including this link because I believe the essential step to bringing potable water equally to all people in this world is to declare it a human right globally. This will ensure that corporations will not have as easy an access to indigenous water systems in third world countries to take advantage of them for profit. It will also give hope to millions around the world who see their resources dwindling due to privitization and as in Mali, changing rainfall patterns that are resulting in the droughts forcing them to find a different way of life because they depend on rain for irrigation.

Also, on the topic of this article, I am appalled by the attitude of the men in these tribes towards the women and children. It is only through education that the next generation in all countries will be better equipped to deal with the crises this world will face. Women and children should not be spending their days fetching water that is many times a dangerous task to perform in these countries, especially with it so scarce.

Declaring water a human right and truly working to give people the EDUCATION and resources they need and the ability to use those resources without relying upon The World Bank and other "new world order" type organizations that only seek to take advantage of their resources for profit is the way to a better world.

And for the people of Mali and countries throughout Africa, education is really the key to their survival along with water.


Debbie said…
Jan, thanks for using your voice to speak for all people and their right to clean and accessible water.

I want to tell you about Program Amman Imman, a project dedicated to the establishment of potable and sustainable water resources in the vast region of the Azawak of Niger and Mali. Ariane Kirtley, the program's founder and director, has been working with Tuareg and Fulani nomadic people in this region to build borehole wells according to their needs and their request.

She is also working to raise the status of women by securing their place on the management committees which will be staffed by local people to maintain their water sources.

Water is desperately needed in this region before education can begin. The good news is that when the first Amman Imman borehole became operational in January of this year, the people immediately began to use the water to make bricks to build a school!

Your readers can find out more about Amman Imman on the website http://www.waterforniger.org/. Additionally, students around the world are working together to partner with Amman Imman to raise awareness and funds for this project. Please visit the blog to read stories about the efforts of students around the world who want to help the children and their families in the Azawak: http://montessori-amman-imman-project.blogspot.com/.

By the way, "Amman Imman" means "Water is Life" in the local language of the people of the region.

This is a very beautiful project, fueled by compassion, persistence, and the passionate voice of someone who is taking a stand for the basic rights and empowerment of these forgotten people.
Jan said…
This is fantastic news. Thank you so much for posting about this project here. I will definitely check this out and write an entry about it to pass the word.
Debbie said…
Thanks, Jan,
And I have added a link to your blog on the Montessori Amman Imman project blog. My goal is to connect students and educators to this project. The potential is to inspire students to be leaders as they take an active role in raising awareness and taking action for the people of the Azawak, starting with issues relatws to water, and then broader issues leading to improving their quality of life. Glad to be connected to you!
Jan said…

Same here. I included the link the Amman Imman Project here as well and wish you much success with this project. I will most certainly be looking into it more.
Debbie said…
I've written a post about your work on Water Is Life on the Montessori Students and the Amman Imman Project Blog (July 28 post) http://montessori-amman-imman-project.blogspot.com/ Thank you for your inspiration!