Lake Chad is the only sizeable surface freshwater reservoir in the Sahel zone. Climatic factors, its uncontrolled use for irrigated farming, and high population pressure have caused the lake to shrink to 10 per cent of its original surface area over the past four decades. Writes GRACE AZUBUIKE
The Lake Chad Basin Commission, founded in 1964, has not been able to stop the degradation of the Lake shared by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Effective cooperation among the riparian states on protecting the ecosystem is still very rudimentary. Additional efforts are now needed to maintain a continual exchange of data, build a joint knowledge platform, and develop effective regional strategies against Lake Chad drying up.
However, the LCBC is Africa's oldest river-lake-basin organisation. In its founding document (the Convention and Statutes relating to the Development of the Chad Basin), the parties commit themselves to a shared use of the basin's natural resources.
The member countries make contributions to the commission's funding based on an agreed-upon key.
Addressing the 14th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in N'Djamena, Republic of Chad, President Goodluck Jonathan, expressed worry over the disturbing spate of insecurity and threat to peace around the Lake Chad.
He observed that certain groups of individuals have been taking advantage of the freedom of movement around border areas to unleash terror, fear and hate on innocent citizens and further expressed appreciation for the continued external support he always receives whenever despicable acts of violence are perpetrated by some of these groups in the country.
The President urged member countries of the LCBC to see this threat beyond the confines of national territories, and consider its wider sub-regional implications.
"Let us, therefore, re-strategise to ensure that our security plans include the border areas of the Lake Chad region in a robust and holistic manner," he said. "It has become urgent to give a new mandate to the multi-national Joint Task Force to include cooperation in dealing with such cross-border insurgency within its area of coverage."
On the issue of the drying up of Lake Chad, President Jonathan expressed delight that the feasibility study on Inter-Basin Water Transfer from Oubangi River in Central African Republic to Lake Chad has revealed that the gigantic project is feasible and can restore hope to the populations around the Lake.
With regard to the recurring problem of insufficient funding of the LCBC Secretariat for optimal performance, he appealed to member countries to ensure speedy redemption of outstanding financial contributions, emphasising that without funds, it is impossible for us to carry out the various plans and initiatives of the LCBC.
He further urged the strengthening of the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the Lake Chad Basin Commission.
Meanwhile, the inter-basin Water Transfer Project which is approved in the Master Plan, Strategic Action Plan and Vision 2025 is the key project for the reversal of the current drastic shrinking of the Lake Chad and the conduct of the feasibility studies was assigned to the Canadian firm, CIMA international for a period of 23 months at the cost of $5.5 million financed entirely by the LCBC member States.
The Lake Chad Basin Investment Plan is a translation into concrete actions and expected outcomes of the policies statements in the Lake Chad Basin Commission a comprehensive five years programme which enumerates priority actions to save the Lake Chad and the ecosystem has been developed, while the implementation Plan is expected to commence in 2013 if this is done a concrete efforts would be actualised by water transfer from Oubangui basin to Lake Chad.
On the issue of the basin, the Executive Secretary of the LCBC, Sanusi Abdullahi, commended Nigeria and Chad for having paid, up to date, all their financial obligations.
Speaking further, he said that the main concerns of the present time is to reverse the drastic shrinking of the Lake Chad and also aimed at ensuring lasting peace and security in the area to guarantee enhanced economic cooperation as a tool for saving our people from abject poverty.
Abdullahi noted that sustainable management of water resources is the key to people's lives and the development of society when these resources cross national and regional boundaries, the demand becomes more complex needing greater cooperation and involving a wider range of actors.
On the water transfer project, he said the study carried concluded that it technically feasible and remained the primary option to save the lake from extinction adding that if executed would increase the present level of the lake up to 1.5 metres with an area increase of about 7,500 sq km in four to five years.
The impact of the drying lake is causing tensions among communities around Lake Chad. There are repeated conflicts among nationals of different countries over control of the remaining water. Cameroonians and Nigerians in Darak village, for example, constantly fight over the water.
Nigerians claim to be the first settlers in the village, while Cameroonians invoke nationalistic sentiments, since the village is within Cameroonian territory. Fishermen also want farmers and herdsmen to cease diverting lake water to their farmlands and livestock.
Also commenting, the Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, commended President Goodluck Jonathan in his committed efforts to resuscitate the ceding Lake Chad. This is even as he said that the lake and adjoining areas have strong agro-economic relevance to the people of Borno State and the country.
He maintained that millions of Borno people rely on water from the Lake Chad basin for agricultural activities which makes Borno State the major stakeholder in Nigeria's membership of the LCBC.