The campaign to revive the lake has been a failure. The concerned authorities must do more to catch up with the rhetoric
At a three-day international conference on how to recharge the drying and shrinking Lake Chad in Abuja last week, President Buhari warned that the world would pay dearly if the lake was allowed to go into extinction. He said the shrinking of the lake and intensification of desertification had caused several people who were dependent on it for irrigation, farming and drinking water for cattle to leave the area.
What is worrying is that there is nothing new in what the president said as he merely re-echoed the same view he canvassed almost three years ago. There seems to be no commitment to changing the narrative despite the obvious danger to the nation and the Lake Chad region.
A 2015 report, the "Environmental Audit of the Drying Up of the Lake Chad" had similarly warned of dire consequences for Nigeria and other neighbouring countries should the Lake Chad basin be allowed to dry up. The key message in the report which noted that there is a correlation between the shrinking of Lake Chad and the current insecurity in the Northeast of the country was that "Lake Chad is drying up very fast-from 25,000 Square Kilometre in 1963 to just 1500 Square Kilometre at present."
Situated on the extreme northern part of Borno State and bordering three other countries (Niger, Cameroun and Chad), the lake, once famous for being one of the largest water bodies in Africa, has become a shadow of itself. Experts have blamed the shrinkage of the lake on a number of factors like climate change, overgrazing, excessive and inappropriate demand for water resources, as well as poor enforcement of environmental legislation.
A combination of these factors have had adverse effect on the lake so much that apart from occupying less than a twentieth of its original size, there is now receding shoreline, desertification, and a threat to livelihood among the surrounding communities drawn from Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad and Niger. With lack of water for irrigation leading to crop failures, livestock deaths because of desertification, collapsed fisheries, soil salinity, wilting plants, withered trees and shrubs, Lake Chad is fast losing its traditional staples of water and vegetation which had sustained livelihood and bourgeoning economic activities for about 30 million people in the area.
Understandably, the shrinkage has also led to some tension and communal clashes among the remaining communities as they struggle to control what is left of the water body. Nigerian communities have clashed severally with Nigerien communities, as a result. Since many people who had drawn livelihood from the Lake Chad area are moving southward in search of the proverbial greener pasture, this has also promoted clashes between herdsmen and their host communities.
It is in a bid to rescue the lake from extinction that both the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) have been seeking ways of reviving and replenishing it. The LCBC, in this regard, had raised the sum of $5 million aimed at funding research on how best to resuscitate the lake and rekindle the socio-economic activities associated with it. But the greater responsibility lies with the four countries while Nigeria is expected to take the lead.
It is particularly noteworthy that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has linked the rise of the insurgency in the North East to poverty as a result of the failing fortunes of the lake. What that suggests is that the federal government and other stakeholders must muster the will to implement the relevant recommendations in the many reports on how to resuscitate the economic activities associated with the lake.
It is time to move from empty rhetoric to concrete actions!