Nigeria: Shrinking Lake Chad and Challenges Ahead Resuscitation

21 August 2018

In this report, CHIKA OKEKE examines issues bordering on resuscitation of Lake Chad and the need for regional governments to tackle the problem headlong.

The Lake Chad is encircled by four countries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad while the greater part of its shorelines are made up of marshes.

Also, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) which is an inter-governmental organisation that oversees water and other natural resource usage in the basin drew its membership from eight countries of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Algeria, the Central African Republic, Libya, and Sudan due to their proximity to Lake Chad.

It was estimated that 12 per cent of the over 400 million people in these countries live around the lake and depended on it for crop and livestock farming, fishing, commerce and trade.

With 90 per cent of the lake's water coming from the Chari River, its initial size was estimated to be about 400.000 sq. by 4000 BC.

Findings by LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER revealed that by January 15, 2007, the lake had shrunk to 500 sq. km, signifying over 90 per cent decline from its normal size.

This has further affected the agricultural livelihood of about 5 million Nigerians and Chadians already battered by insurgency.

Experts have attributed the shrinking to overgrazing, population growth, climate change and insecurity that led to decline in vegetation and increased desertification.

However, a 2017 report from the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Nigeria hinted that about 7 million people across the Lake Chad basin struggling with food insecurity needed assistance.

It further stated that more than 1.8 million people in the north-east Nigeria were food insecure at emergency levels, while 11 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance within the region.

The report highlighted that Boko Haram's attacks and military counter-offensives have displaced 2.3 million people even as majority of the displaced were sheltered by communities who were among the world's most vulnerable.

It disclosed that Lake Chad basin is grappling with complex humanitarian emergency that have affected about 17 million people across north-eastern Nigeria, Cameroon's far north, Western Chad and south-east Niger.

While noting that over 2.3 million people had fled their homes, UN lamented that the protection strategy highlighted by governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger in the Abuja Action statement of June 2016, remained an ongoing challenge.

While scientists have expressed fear that Lake Chad might dry soon, violence and insecurity have disrupted trade and markets, just as vital infrastructure such as health centres, schools, water pipelines, bridges and roads have been destroyed.

Worried by the crisis, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Nigeria with funding support from the government of Germany on May this year, organised the inaugural meeting of governors in the Lake Chad basin in Maiduguri.

Part of the resolution was to establish the Lake Chad basin governors' forum, aimed at supporting ongoing national, regional and multilateral efforts towards stability of the region by the African Union (AU).

It was also intended to proffer workable strategy towards the resuscitation of Lake Chad.

Despite their intent, revamping of the lake might be a herculean task given the over 10- year activities of Boko Haram that led to increased migration.

Cross section of experts that spoke with LEADERSHIP expressed fear that the activities of Boko Haram would cripple the planned recharging of Lake Chad if not tackled.

A board member of NINGONET for humanitarian development response initiative, a non-governmental organisation, Mr Tim Aniebonam, stated that the restoration of Lake Chad was impossible without crippling insurgency in the neighbouring communities.

The expert wondered why several countries had refused to make the needed commitments to reactivate and rehabilitate Lake Chad which he said worsened with the over 10 years activities of Boko Haram.

Aniebonam maintained that no contractor would accept to work around the Chad basin even if the resources were available.

He recalled the kidnap of two expatriates hired to install wind energy project in Katsina despite the huge sums of money invested in the project by the foreigners.

Aniebonam was emphatic that no business would thrive without security adding that farmers could no longer go to farms due to the escalating killings by herdsmen.

He stated that for contractors to work on Lake Chad due to its potentials to boost agriculture, fishing and other activities in Nigeria and beyond that there was the need for the presence of heavily armed security personnel which he said was lacking in the region.

The expert lamented that federal government was handling issues bordering on insecurity with levity, stating that the current humanitarian crisis have had devastating impact on food security across the country.

To this end, he noted that though the federal government was moving the country out of a mono economy that depended on oil to an agricultural - based economy, that the activities of alleged herdsmen and kidnappers would cripple the ambition.

He lamented that farmers had shunned farming since most of the attacks started in the farms.

The humanitarian expert pointed out that the carnage done by herdsmen should be drastically reduced stressing that Nigeria was losing the war on insecurity with the continued spread of crisis across the country.

He regretted that cattle rustling menace in the north - east had impacted negatively on the agriculture sector saying that most of the policies introduced by previous governments were abandoned by successive government.

There are also reports that over 2.3 million had been displaced due to the heightened activities of Boko Haram in the region.

The head of communications UN OCHA, Ms Samantha Newport, described Nigeria's humanitarian crisis which spilled into the Lake Chad region as one of the most severe crisis in the world today.

She disclosed that over 7.7 million people needed humanitarian assistance this year in the worst-affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States.

Newport asserted that the organisation targeted about 6.1 million for humanitarian assistance in the troubled areas.

While describing the conflict as a protection crisis, she regretted that civilians bore the brunt of a conflict that had led to widespread forced displacement, abuse, and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

According to her, "These protection risks are closely linked to food scarcity and insecurity and high levels of need for basic life-saving assistance and services."

The communication head described the hosting of Lake Chad Basin Governors' Forum in Maiduguri as a positive step in the right direction to support ongoing stabilisation efforts.

However, at the security council briefing from Monrovia on Boko Haram and the situation in the Lake Chad Basin, the United Nations deputy secretary-general, Mrs Amina Mohammed, hinted that about 10.7 million people in the Lake Chad basin needed life-saving assistance.

She revealed that 4.5 million people were currently food insecure across the Lake Chad basin , adding that the number was expected to rise to 5.8 million this year.

Mohammed stated that 2.3 million people including 1.5 million children were forcibly displaced from their homes.

She noted that United Nations was supporting the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission to develop a stabilisation, recovery and resilience strategy for the region in line with security council's resolution 2349.

Mohammed regretted that violations of human rights continued to fuel insecurity in the Lake Chad basin.

The UN DSG stated that UN accepted the recruitment of three African Union/Lake Chad Basin Commission human rights officers as part of the civilian component of the multi-national force.

Mohammed said that about $1.6 billion would be required to assist 7.8 million people in the four countries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad, just as she enjoined member states to ensure that the humanitarian appeal was well-funded and that pledges were disbursed promptly.

The UN DSG was optimistic that restoring Lake Chad would improve livelihoods for millions of people, reduce local tensions and foster regional integration and development.

Aside the inaugural meeting of governors in the Lake Chad basin in Maiduguri, the federal government on February this year hosted an international conference on Lake Chad.

The conference recommended an inter-basin water transfer from the Congo basin, connecting the River Congo to the Chari River that flows into Lake Chad.

Mohammed hinted that the international conference on Lake Chad in Abuja and the adoption of the deliberations named Abuja Declaration reaffirmed the region's commitment to address the socio-economic impact of climate change and instability in the Sahel, West Africa and Lake Chad region.

She called on the region to join forces with the UN to end the insurgency that has led to immense suffering with serious consequences beyond its borders.

At the 22nd edition of Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Morocco, President Muhammadu Buhari called for an urgent need to resuscitate Lake Chad saying that the shrinking of the lake was currently affecting the lives and livelihood of more than 5 million people in the region.

He added that the shrinking contributed to insecurity in the region, including the emergence of Boko Haram.

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