London — Protecting the shrinking lake - and preventing a worsening humanitarian crisis - will require helping people find work, UN official says
Creating more jobs in the conflict-affected Lake Chad region is crucial to both protecting the shrinking lake and addressing the humanitarian crisis in the region, according to a new UNESCO plan.
In a proposal presented this week in Nigeria at an international conference on the future of the Lake Chad region, the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization said it would work to help people find jobs related to the lake, in order to protect it and boost the resilience of communities living near it.
Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 percent since the 1960s as a result of drying conditions and growing population in the region, experts say. That has put pressure on people living there, driving both migration and making the region's people vulnerable to recruitment by Islamist militant groups such as Boko Haram.
"This is one of the poorest regions in all of Africa," Abou Amani, UNESCO's chief of hydrological systems and water scarcity, said in an interview with Thomas Reuters Foundation. "We need to bring more work here to transform the area."
The BIOPALT project - the name is a French acronym - will focus on cutting poverty for people in the Lake Chad area, which cuts across Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria in Africa's Sahel region.
Plans to boost jobs include harvesting spirulina algae from the lake and protecting endangered Kuri cattle, UNESCO officials said.
The agency is hopeful that if people rely on the lake for an income, they will help ensure it is managed more sustainably.
"We are looking for which kinds of activities can develop so people can get more in terms of income," Amani said.
The effort will focus on both water conservation and cultural preservation in the region over the next three years, UNESCO officials said.
Climate change, worsening drought and population growth - more than 40 million people depend on resources from Lake Chad - has contributed to the once huge lake's decline, which in turn has driven growing poverty in the region.
Dealing with the problems has been difficult, not least because the lake crosses national boundaries, UNESCO officials said.
They said the project was developed with communities in Lake Chad, to ensure it meets their needs and that conservation efforts will work for them as well as the lake.
"Resilience is key," Amani said. "Otherwise, climate shocks will have a huge effect on the population."