Located in Northern Central Africa, the Lake Chad, which was one of the largest water bodies on the African continent, is slowly disappearing. The Lake Chad Basin spreads over seven countries: Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Algeria, Sudan, Central African Republic and Cameroon. The lake’s water level and size has shrunk a massive 90% compared with what it was in the 1960s while its surface area has decreased from a peak of 25,000 square kilometres to approximately 1,350 sq. km today (World Bank, 2014) and its disappearance is having a tremendous impact on the communities surrounding it. This decrease has led to longer dry seasons, and the inability to feed local populations.
Millions of people all of whom depend on the lake as their main source for drinking water, irrigation, and food are now finding it difficult to manage (Coe and Foley, 2001.)Those who were once dependent on fishing now have to make the transition to farming. Food insecurity and water insecurity are among many problems accompanying the drying up of the lake. The impact of the drying lake is causing tensions among communities around Lake Chad. There are repeated conflicts among nationals of different countries over control of the remaining water.
Cameroonians and Nigerians in Darak village, for example, constantly fight over the water. Nigerians claim to be the first settlers in the village, while Cameroonians invoke nationalistic sentiments, since the village is within Cameroonian territory. Fishermen also want farmers and herdsmen to cease diverting lake water to their farmlands and livestock (Salkida, 2012.)
In Nigeria, the Auditor General of the Federation, Mr. Samuel Ukura, noted in his report to President Muhammadu Buharion the Drying up of Lake Chad, that there was a correlation between the shrinking of Lake Chad and the current insecurity in the North-east of Nigeria. It is believed that this is part of the root cause of violence and insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin; a significant part of the increasing population of fishing and pastoralist communities worse affected by the shrinking Lake Chad from 30 to about 47 million have been forced to move south in search of alternative livelihoods. He advised that diverting a river to empty into the Chad Basin, which was recommended from an Environmental Report during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s rule, will affect at least, two million Nigerians and another two million from Cameroon, Chad and Niger to resettle and perhaps that will help to stop Boko Haram around that area (Soniyi, 2015.).
Research has shown that the rapid drying of the lake has been caused by desertification, climate change, over fishing and destructive local irrigation techniques (Bloemen, 2011).Poor water management and irresponsible irrigation techniques have been used to feed crops on the shores of the Lake Chad region. Local communities say rainfall has been steadily reducing by about five to 10mm a year, also, the damming of rivers feeding the lake for hydro-electric schemes have all combined to cause devastating effects. Local farmers have complained that they have had no help with fertilisers or irrigation, and have to rely on residual water in the ground to make the land fertile (Bomford, 2006.) An audit report, jointly undertaken by the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) member countries including Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad also noted that water resources management decisions were not based on water use data and existing water use regulations were not enforced in the Lake Chad Basin. The situation of Lake Chad highlights how environmental crisis can result in political, economic and social disparity. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have called the situation an “ecological catastrophe,” predicting that the lake could disappear this century (Salkida, 2012.)
The Lake Chad Basin Commission, created in 1964, aims to regulate and control the use of water and other natural resources in the basin and to initiate, promote, and coordinate natural resource development projects and research (FAO, 1997.)
The World Bank has highlighted that in pilot projects surrounding Lake Chad the recognition and support to traditional organizations of hunters, fishermen, women, pastoralists and foresters, will be essential for success (World Bank 2002.) Representations from each of these groups in larger projects will aid in understanding the cultural intricacies of this disaster and what is necessary for each specific group (Harford, 2002.)It is critical that global environmental discussions integrate climatic and conflict challenges in developing countries. Commitment internationality has also been echoed from government leaders; President Muhammadu Buhari has directed more measures to be put in place to address the situation, including the use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for cooking, especially in urban areas of the country. However it remains to be seen whether or not proposed projects by the UN, LCBC, the World Bank, other governments and organisations will result in relief that millions of people need (Soniyi, 2015.)
The multifaceted approach will need to be implemented that will combine poverty reduction with environmental sustainability by addressing both environmental and livelihood issues. Most of the people utilizing Lake Chad for their livelihood are limited by lack of education and investment in technology to implement more sustainable techniques for fishing and farming (Ayouba, 2009.)
Government’s response in adapting to climate change should specify objectives and targets of adaptation policies that reflect Government efforts to adapt both the short- and long-term of climate change. Short-term options include emergency planning, flood defence and management. In the longer term, governments can use natural resource management and land-use planning to reduce vulnerability. Governments also have some policy options that can help adaptation efforts in both the short- and long-term, for example, monitoring areas that are threatened by climate change, research and technology development, and capacity-building activities, both nationally and through global and inter-regional networks (Oviir and Kosmo, 2010)
By Bih Tosam
Head of Energy and Environment Commission, ACC