Fighting between herders, fishermen and farmers over management and access to dwindling water resources leaves dozens of casualties in northern Cameroon, forcing thousands to flee their homes.
Renewed intercommunal violence that erupted this week in Cameroon’s far north region has displaced thousands of people.
In addition to the massive displacement inside Cameroon, more than 30,000 people in the northern region fled to Chad after ethnic clashes at the weekend, claiming at least 22 lives, the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.
Clashes broke out in the border village of Ouloumsa following a dispute between herders, fishermen and farmers over diminishing water resources.
Violence then spread to neighbouring villages and ten villages have been burned to the ground.
Three days later, more fighting broke out in the Cameroonian city of Kousseri, a commercial hub with some 200,000 inhabitants. Kousseri’s cattle market was destroyed in the fighting.
At least 10,000 people have fled Kousseri to Chad’s capital N’Djamena, located a few kilometres across the Chari and Logone Rivers, which mark the border with Cameroon.
“Eighty percent of the new arrivals are women, including many who are pregnant, and children,” the UNHCR said.
A bout of fighting between herders and fishermen in August had led to 45 deaths and an influx of at least 23,000 people into Chad, 8,500 of whom have remained there since then.
Cameroonian officials say two of the parties in the conflict are fishermen of the Musgum community and ethnic Arab Choa cattlemen.
"The Arab Choa wanted to take their herds to the banks of a river. The Mousgoum and Massa prevented them," a leader in northern Cameroon, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
"When there is a problem between two people from different communities, all the communities get involved with weapons," the leader said.
Security forces were dispatched to the region, but the situation remains volatile. The UNHCR was forced to suspend its operations in the affected areas.
Violent conflict between ethnic groups is relatively rare in Cameroon compared to Chad and Nigeria, where fighting over resources between semi-nomadic herders and sedentary farmers is frequent.
The UN agency said in a November report that scant rainfall had dried up rivers and seasonal ponds that communities depend on, leading to clashes in the area.
“The climate crisis is exacerbating tensions in far north Cameroon. In recent decades, the surface of Lake Chad has decreased by as much as 95 percent, ” the UN agency said.
“Fishermen and farmers have dug vast trenches to retain the remaining river water so they can fish and cultivate crops. But the muddy trenches are trapping and sometimes killing cattle belonging to the herders, sparking tension and fighting.”
Chad is home to close to a million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) and Cameroon to more than 1.5 million refugees and IDPs.
The agency said UN officials and local authorities were leading reconciliation efforts to put an end to the violence.
“But without urgent action to address the root causes of the crisis, the situation could escalate further.”