Lake Chad used to be an economically important source of water for between 20 and 30 million people in West Africa with its basin covering parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. A combination of factors, essentially climate change, increase in the population, unplanned irrigation and desert encroachment have seen it shrink dangerously. According to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, it shrank by as much as 95 per cent from about 1963 to 1998.
The Lake Chad basin used to provide space for a multiple of human economic activities ranging from grazing, fishing and crop farming not counting the rich species of flora and fauna it used to harbour. All that is vanishing creating, in the process, a range of challenges including ecological, employment and security, especially food security issues. The shrinking of the Lake has also caused several different conflicts to emerge as the countries bordering the Lake argue over the rights to the remaining water. Along with the international conflicts, violence with countries is also increasing among the Lake's dwellers. Farmers and herders want the water for their crops and livestock and are constantly diverting the water while the Lake's fishermen want water diversion slowed or halted in order to prevent continuing decline in water levels resulting in further strain on the fish habitat. Furthermore, birds and other animals in the area are threatened, including those that serve as important sources of food for the local human population.
It is from this perspective that this newspaper feels obliged to commend ongoing efforts to recharge the water of the Lake or at least save what is left of it. In our opinion, the plan to recharge the Lake using water from the tributaries of the Congo River is a welcome development even as it is on record that the idea was first mooted in 1929. It is believed that water from the Ubangi would revitalize the dying Lake Chad and provide livelihood in fishing and enhanced agriculture to tens of millions of people in central Africa and Sahel regions. The proposal then, for inexplicable reasons, did not see the light of day.
Interbasin water transfer schemes were also proposed in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1994, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) proposed a similar project, and at a March 2008 summit, the Heads of State of the LCBC member countries committed to the diversion project. In April 2008, the LCBC advertised a request for proposals for a World Bank-funded feasibility study. All these attempts to save the Lake were not sufficiently successful, making the situation in the basin presently assume a renewed urgency. There is no doubt that revitalising Lake Chad has become a security project - security in all its manifestations. President Muhammadu Buhari, relying on his military background, understands it so well and is driving efforts to get the project off the ground.
Already, arrangements are on to raise a whopping $50 billion that will hopefully bring the project to fruition. Gratefully, in our view, the United Nations is interested in plans by countries in the region to restore the Lake to its former glory. Actually, the Secretary General of the world body is reported to have accepted to co-chair the fundraiser with the Nigerian President.
Experts agree that the project has the potential to address some of the emerging problems in the region. If that money or substantial part of it is raised and construction work commences, the job opportunities it is capable of generating are limitless. We are convinced that a revitalised Lake Chad will, presumably, reduce the army of unemployed youths that the terrorists latch on to and use to cause mayhem in the region. The project is, to that extent, seen as strategic phase in the war against terrorism because it is becoming obvious that efforts to take the youths off crime and criminality often fail because, with nothing to do, they soon relapse to anti-social behaviour.
It is pertinent, therefore, to urge the countries in the region to develop the political will desperately needed to get the project actualised. We are enamoured by the realisation that the international community, through the United Nations, is willing to buy into this plan to prevent the economic and ecological disaster a failed Lake Chad will constitute. Even more importantly, we call on rich countries of the world to feel compelled to assist this determined move to revive the Lake by making the soon- to- hold Recharge Lake Chad fundraiser a success.