Lake Chad should be helped to survive

Of the $2.2 billion needed for humanitarian assistance in the Lake Chad region spanning Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, only $460 million 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 25,000 square kilometres in 1963 to a mere 1,350 square kilometres today.

Situated on the extreme northern part of Borno State and sharing border with Niger, 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 the said 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. Consequently, many of the people who had drawn livelihood from the Lake Chad 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.

The precarious situation in the lake, aptly described as “ecological catastrophe” by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Orgainsation (FAO) recently got the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari when he received the environmental report on the lake. The report which also lamented the pervading poverty in the area linked the rise of the insurgency in the North East partly to the failing fortunes of the lake. Baga, for instance, which used to have a very busy fish market from where most of the other northern states and indeed Nigeria are supplied fish caught from the Lake, is now like a ghost town since the lake has seized to be what it used to be.

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. Indeed, Nigerian communities have clashed severally with Nigerien communities as a result. It is therefore 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 the “dying lake”. 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 the lake.

We therefore commend the concern the Nigerian government is giving the Lake Chad issue. Efforts must be made to implement the relevant recommendations of the report with the ultimate aim of resuscitating economic activities associated with the lake. In addition, we call for the effective utilisation of the funds provided for the Lake Chad revival, just as we ask that the LCBC should mobilise all concerned stakeholders to similarly key into the project with a view to saving the lake from the threatening extinction.

For there to be any enduring peace and security in the Lake Chad region, the people have to be economically empowered.