West Africa: The Lake Chad Basin Problem

Photo: Wikipedia
Lake Chad basin map.
2 August 2018

Any assistance to recharge the lake is welcome

In the course of his recent official visit to The Netherlands, President Muhammadu Buhari discussed with the Dutch Prime Minister, Mr Mark Rutte a number of issues, including the shrinking Lake Chad and its impact on the economy of the communities living in the area. Welcoming the commitment of the Dutch authorities to establish a technical committee to work with the Nigerian side on the best approach to address the issue, Buhari harped on the need for workable solutions to restore Lake Chad, including the inter-basin water transfer project from Ubangi River in Central Africa to the lake.

Situated on the extreme northern part of Borno State and sharing border with Niger Republic, Cameroun and Chad, experts have blamed the shrinkage of the lake on a number of factors including climate change, overgrazing, excessive and inappropriate demand for water resources, as well as poor enforcement of environmental legislation. A combination of these factors has 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 the about 30 million people in the area. Consequently, many of the people who had drawn livelihood from the lake area are moving southward in search of the proverbial greener pasture. This, has in turn, not only put pressure on other sections of the country, it has also promoted clashes between herdsmen and their host communities.

At a recent regional meeting to find a solution to the problem, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon, said despite the progress made on the security and humanitarian front in recent years, more needed to be done to assure the people of the Lake Chad Basin of their safety. "The people of this region have suffered for far too long and we need to redouble our collective efforts to address the underlying causes of the crisis."

Instructively, of the $2.2 billion needed for humanitarian assistance in the Lake Chad region spanning Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, only $460 has been delivered, according to Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. But beyond the funding gap, the bigger challenge is that the lake once famous for being one of the largest water bodies in Africa has become a shadow of itself, having shrunk from its 25,000 square kilometres in 1963 to a mere 1,350 square kilometres today.

This precarious situation, aptly described as "ecological catastrophe" by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in a recent environmental report which also lamented the pervading poverty in the area, linked the rise of the insurgency in the North East to the failing fortunes of the lake. 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.

We therefore welcome any assistance that the Dutch authorities can offer Nigeria as our country leads regional efforts aimed at resuscitating economic activities by recharging the lake. For there to be any enduring peace and security in the region, the people have to be economically empowered and Lake Chad has become very critical in that direction.

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