Ugo Aliogo writes on the need for member countries to address the challenges in the Lake Chad Basin in 2020
Lake Chad used to be one of Africa’s largest freshwater bodies and a source of livelihood for about 30 million. but today it is vanishing fast. The diminishing water levels shared by eight countries, have pushed an estimated 12 per cent of the more than 370 million people in these countries who depend on it for crop and livestock farming, fishing, commerce and trade to abject poverty, triggered mass migration, conflicts and crises in the region.
Located in Northern Central Africa, Lake Chad borders four countries -Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. But the Lake Chad “Basin” that covers almost 8% of the continent spreads over seven countries: Algeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, Niger and Nigeria. Additionally, the decade-long Boko Haram insurgency has resulted in mass displacement of millions across the region.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to date, the Lake Chad Basin region is grappling with a complex humanitarian emergency. Over 3.3 million people have been displaced, including over 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in north-eastern Nigeria, over 550,000 IDPs in Cameroon, Chad and Niger and 240,000 refugees in the four countries.
It noted that the crisis has been exacerbated by conflict-induced food insecurity and severe malnutrition, which have risen to critical levels in all four countries. Despite the efforts of governments and humanitarian aid in 2019, some 3.5 million people remain food insecure in the Lake Chad Basin region and would depend on assistance.
It added: “The challenges of protecting the displaced are compounded by the deteriorating security situation as well as socio-economic fragility, with communities in the Sahel region facing chronic poverty, a harsh climatic conditions, recurrent epidemics, poor infrastructure and limited access to basic services.
“The Nigerian military, together with the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), have driven extremists from many of the areas they once controlled, but these gains have been overshadowed by an increase of Boko Haram attacks in neighbouring countries. Despite the return of Nigerian IDPs and refugees to accessible areas, the crisis remains acute.”
In September 2019, President Buhari raised an alarm over the disappearing Lake Chad at an event in New York during the UN General Assembly.
He noted that Lake Chad was shrinking while the population is exploding adding that it’s a challenging situation, “with less land, less rainfall, these are very unique problems for the country.”
The Deputy Secretary-General, United Nation, Amina Mohammed, noted that the UN’s engagement in the Lake Chad Basin has taken the form of humanitarian assistance, development aid, human rights, justice and law enforcement, as well as preventing and countering terrorism.
It would be recalled that in the last two years, the UN has co-hosted two back-to-back international donor conferences, the first was in Oslo, where donors pledged $672 million in emergency assistance, and the second in Berlin, where donors announced $2.17 billion, including $467 million in concessional loans, to support activities in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
Mohammed said: “The widespread violence has left 10.7 million people across the Lake Chad region in need of emergency assistance. Most of these people were already contending with high poverty rates, poor provision of basic services like education and healthcare, and the devastating impact of climate change.
Now, 2.3 million people across the region are displaced; over five million are struggling to access enough food to survive; and half a million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.”
The final communiqué issued at the end of the Lake Chad Basin Governors’ forum meeting in Niamey in July 2019, urged the intervening actors to put in place joint efforts towards stabilizing, building peace and fostering sustainable development across the Basin through promoting dialogue and cross-border cooperation.
Impact of Boko Haram in Lake Chad Basin
The violence perpetrated both by Boko Haram and by the counter-insurgency campaign against it resulted in the deaths of nearly 30,000 people between 2009 and 2016, extensive physical destruction, the displacement of some 2.4 million people and a severe food crisis affecting 6.6 million more. Economic activity has effectively ground to a halt.
A Senior Fellow, for Security and Development at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Virginia Comolli, noted that during President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration in May 2015, he began by strengthening cooperation with neighboring governments and took on the leadership of the force for the entire duration of its mission (previously leadership had rotated among the members of the MNJTF).
She, also asserted that counter-insurgency operations by the Nigerian military and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) increased in scale and power throughout 2015 and 2016.
She further stated that with the exception of its stronghold in the Sambisa forest and Gwoza Hills in north-eastern Borno state, Boko Haram became largely confined to Abadam, Mobbar, Guzamala, Kukawa, Gubio, “and Nganzai local government areas (LGAs) by late 2016, although continued insecurity prevented the reestablishment of civilian administration in areas ‘liberated’ by the Nigerian military.”
Comolli added: “In adjacent border regions, Boko Haram was pushed further into the Far North region of Cameroon, the Lac region in Chad, and the south-eastern Diffa region in Niger. Many militants were killed or apprehended, forcing Boko Haram to increasingly resort to coerced recruitment in these areas.”
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY, development expert, Ademola Adigun, who noted that lots of work has been done in the region.
He remarked that Buhari was aware of the situation and has been doing much in the aspect of awareness creation about the challenges of Lake Chad Basin, adding that he has been calling the attention of development partners on the issue.
According to Adigun: “The challenges facing the basin is not something that can be address in a day. When you have a problem caused by ecological issue, you have to carefully think on the best strategies to address it.
“There are problems caused by Boko Haram insurgents in that area which caused loss of livelihood. On the part of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, they require a lot of money to tackle the problems facing the basin and on the part of Nigeria, we don’t have money.
“There has to be collaborative efforts by the member countries in the commission to tackle the challenge using either ECOWAS or Africa Union to tackle the challenges of the basin.”
In his remarks, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Rafsanjani, said Nigeria has been expected by everyone to play a leadership role in order to mitigate the crisis facing the region, “as you aware, this region has a lot of potentials that can drive development and growth for members’ countries.”
He explained due to the lack of developmental leadership over the years in the country, government has not developed a coherent policy framework to address the issue.
He said presently there are cases of intervention that is not meant to last because there is a collapse of quality leadership that would develop quality framework in Nigeria.
Rafsanjani added: “Our foreign policy has not been reviewed to meet the inherent realities within the Lake Chad and West African sub-region. Lack of access to water has created additional health challenges for people in the Lake Chad.
“The basin is not only rich sources of water, but it has a lot of mineral resources which if Nigeria had paid attention to developing the region or have a coherent policy framework, it would save the region from the humanitarian crisis facing it. Some of the crises facing the region are the climate change, the rising population and poverty.”
The Executive Director of CISLAC called on the federal government to understand the problems facing the Lake Chad in order to know the best possible solution to address it from its own standpoint.
He further stressed that there was need for a policy review of the situation in the region, adding that government has to change its attitude to disaster management in the country.
Rafsanjani: “Disaster management cannot be an avenue for siphoning public funds and enriching certain individuals and this is similar to what we are seeing with the Boko Haram crisis. The crisis has exposed corrupt individuals in Nigeria. There is also need to bring in experts to access where we are on the issue and what we need to do. The Lake Chad Basin has exposed the incapacitation of the Nigeria State to handle effectively humanitarian crisis with the collaboration of other member countries.”
In his recommendation on how to address the development challenges of Lake Chad, the Former, Governance Adviser/Regional Coordinator Department for International Development (DFID), Dr. Sina Fagbenro-Byron, said in order to address the Lake Chad crisis, there is need to build a water pipeline from Calabar to extract water from the Atlantic Ocean to refill the Lake Chad systemically.
Fagbenro-Byron who was a former presidential candidate explained that the difference between carrying water from the Atlantic Ocean is that salt water cannot be carried from the ocean and dump it in a lake, otherwise the purpose is going to be defeated.
He further stated that along the line of the pipeline, there should be construction of desalination plant to desalinate the water and extract salt, do mini-dams, mini-irrigations, until the water ends in the Lake Chad Zone.
According to Fagbenro-Byron: “Reclaiming the Lake Chad with the immediate commencement of the feasibility, design, mobilization and construction of a water pipeline from the Atlantic Ocean off Cross River State to Borno State to reclaim Lake Chad with the added economic externalities including desalination plants and power stations along the route. Therefore, we shall prioritise development against SDG 7 and 13.
“The difference between carrying water from the Atlantic Ocean is that you cannot just carry salt water and dump it in a lake, otherwise you are going to defeat the purpose. So what you do is that along the line of the pipeline, you construct what is known desalination plant to desalinate the water and in the process, you can extract salt, do mini-dams, mini-irrigations, until the water ends in the Lake Chad Zone.
“If this project is done, it is going to be the most extensive and exhaustive indigenous project. In carrying this project, the technical assistant should come from the University Community.
“There are hydrologists and Engineers in the University Community. The engineering or calculation when it comes to the issue of desalination. People will tell that your desalination plants are very expensive. They are expensive when you procure them from the wrong source. There are several ways of constructing desalination pipes.”