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Who will save Lake Chad?

August 27th, 2018
topics:Humans, Nature, Economy
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Nigeria, Central African Republic, Cameroon
tags:Boko Haram, climate-change, Lake Chad, Sahel, Sub-Saharan Africa

In one of the most severe and historic crises in Sub Saharan Africa, Lake Chad, one time considered to be the largest lake in the world has shrunk to one tenth of its original size bringing with it a trail of famine, conflict and death.

A cocktail of unprecedented population growth, unregulated irrigation, climate change and Boko Haram terror group activities, have conspired to choke the Lake that provides a livelihood for over 40 million people.

The Lake is the lifeline for the Sahel region, a semiarid area that separates the Sahara in the North from Savanna in the south. It is shared by Nigeria, Central Africa Republic, Niger and Cameroon while being of strategic importance to countries like Libya, Algeria and Sudan. The total population of these eight countries is 373.6 million with an approximated 12 per cent of the population residing around the Lake.

It has been key in moderating the weather in the Sahel, an area billed as the hottest world over while acting as a buffer to the Sahara desert.

When it was at its optimum in the 1960s, the Lake had on average 135 fish species, with fishermen netting 200,000 tonnes of fish each year which birthed a thriving fish business in the country with about 20,000 commercial fish sellers engaged in booming business.

But as the population continued growing and more people embraced farming and fishing demand for water increased. With government failing to encourage replenishing of water, and with climate change in Cameroon taking a toll on the lake, the water levels slowly started deteriorating. “There were numerous alerts from both local scientists and international bodies as water levels started receding. If quick interventions had been taken by the early 1990s when the water levels started dropping too fast this could have been salvaged,” said Patrick Muhinze, a Ugandan scientist and expert in resources related conflicts in Sub Saharan Africa.

Initially covering 26,000 square kilometres, the Lake is a pale shadow of its former self now only occupying a paltry 500 square kilometres with experts warning that if the trend continues the lake will completely disappear in the next two decades.

 And as West and Central Africa, the African Union and the international community burn the midnight oil to find immediate and sustainable solutions to save the lake, the situation on the ground is moving from worse to catastrophic. More than 10.7 million people in the basin are in need of humanitarian relief for survival, the UN estimates, with seven million facing starvation. Half a million children are already suffering from malnutrition. As fish stocks in the Lake dwindle and farmers and herders struggle with receding water levels, deadly conflicts have become the order of the day.

The activities of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria has forced millions of Nigeria to Lake Chad for safe haven which has further complicated the humanitarian crisis at the region. The United Nations estimates that over two million people have fled Nigeria to Lake Chad.

But there have been spirited efforts to rescue the lake from oblivion.

The governments in the Lake Chad region are exploring reviving a plan that was first explored in 1982 by an Italian engineering company to construct a 2,400 canal that will tap water from the tributaries of Congo River and drain it into the Lake. “The time to act is now. The time to bail out the region is now. The time to show our humanity is now”, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said while delivering his speech at the Shrinking-Lake-Chad-BasinThe international conference on saving the Lake Chad held at the beginning of this year.

Patrick says while the idea is a far-fetched, it remains the only viable option at the moment. “It is such an ambitious plan but one that seems to be the only option at the moment. With the rains not having been spotted in the area for years and with the rise in human activities around the lake despite the diminishing water levels it is now time to take drastic actions.”

As a short term intervention, the United Nations has supplied the fishermen with new and unique fish nets that are increasing their stocks even as the fish population decreases.

With studies indicating that Sub Saharan Africa will bear the greatest brunt of the vagaries of weather, due to its over reliance on agriculture, scientists now say that Lake Chad’s current situation could be replicated in other critical water bodies if judicious water use is not embraced, which will spark deadly conflicts.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
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The Lake provides a livelihood for over 40 million people.
It has been key in moderating the weather in the Sahel, an area billed as the hottest world over while acting as a buffer to the Sahara desert.
When it was at its optimum in the 1960s, the Lake had on average 135 fish species, with fishermen netting 200,000 tonnes of fish each year.
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