Climate Change: The Lake Chad Basin’s nightmare
The issue of climate change is the subject of increasingly important attention for our generation and future generations. Many scientific predictions have finally convinced the political sphere of all the dangers this phenomenon poses to the globe. Its side effects disturb some aspects of food security (agriculture, health, water, etc.) and biodiversity and ecosystems.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THE LAKE CHAD BASIN
Located in Northern Central Africa in the continent’s heart and a Sahel region which the UN Special Adviser Ibrahim Thiaw considers as “arguably one of the most vulnerable to climate change [with most likely] the largest number of people disproportionately affected by global warming.” (Climate Centre, 2018)
Lake Chad borders four countries — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon. But the Lake Chad Basin covers almost 8% of the continent spreads over seven countries: Algeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, Niger, and Nigeria. (Usigbe, 2019)
It constitutes a sizeable freshwater oasis to which local communities hang on to develop their economic activities (agriculture, fishing, and breeding). However, under the increasing effect of global warming and specific human actions, it has experienced significant variations since the 1960s of its area. According to a UNEP Report (2018), It increased from 26,000 km2 (in 1963) to less than 1,500 km2 currently, whose main consequence has been the deterioration of capacities productive areas of the region. Adapting to upheaval climate and environmental transformations constitutes a significant issue for the populations already weakened by the region’s socio-economic context, which must now deploy new production strategies to survive.
“Lake Chad Basin is world’s most neglected humanitarian crisis” –Stephen O’Brien
WHO IS TO BLAME?
“The climate changes trigger processes that man is accelerating.” – Professor Maurice Tsalefac
Agriculture near the shores of the lake and deforestation
The main anthropogenic causes are deforestation and the voluntary drying up of land near the lake for farming (Pandey, 2017). Growing cotton, for example, requires a lot of water. It is why they pump water from one of the tributaries of Lake Chad, the Chari, to irrigate their fields. Also, the drying up of the lake has made new land available for agriculture. These lands are very fertile, as they are still wet and full of minerals. These emerged lands are therefore very popular with farmers in the region. However, this practice makes the lake even more fragile since these crops on the banks of the lake also require water. There are no rules that have been put in place to deal with the problem, and farmers continue to pump water from the Chari regardless of the consequences.
According to scientists, drought and reduced rainfall are the primary causes of drought in Lake Chad. Indeed, since 1968 the country has experienced a decrease in precipitation. The rains being increasingly rare, causing the reduction in the flow of the main tributary rivers of Lake Chad. The drop in rainfall in recent years has also caused a significant drought. The land and part of the watershed were arid. The scarce water supply sources such as residual water and perched aquifers have completely drained in recent years. Another cause is the appearance of new islands on Lake Chad due to the Sahara winds, which bring large amounts of sand. Natural causes such as the decrease in rainfall in the Sahelian climate zone cause the lake to dry up. However, these are not the leading causes because, as Professor Maurice Tsalefac of the University of Yaoundé I says, “The climate changes, trigger processes that man is accelerating.”
WHAT IS AT STAKE?
Lake Chad is recognized as one of Africa’s largest lakes, but its area has shrunk considerably in recent years. It has gone from 26,000 square km to 1,500 square km in the space of 50 years, a reduction of almost 90%. One of the significant problems with this decrease is that this lake supplies four different countries with drinking water. These countries’ economies would be severely affected, as they would subsequently have to draw their drinking water from foreign countries at much higher prices, which would be much less accessible. Besides, farmers should find another way to irrigate their land. Second, fishing, one of the main activities carried out on Lake Chad, is now in danger. Fishers face several problems, such as the lack of good catches or the water level, which is constantly decreasing.
Overfishing in the waters of Lake Chad causes its biodiversity to decrease, which causes several environmental consequences. If the situation continues like this, there will soon be no more fish in the lake’s waters. But it seems that the main result is, all the same, the proliferation of grasses that invade the shallows of the lake. The latter consume a lot of oxygen and suffocate this great lung of Africa. It is also observed degradation of forests, progressive salinization of soils and water tables, and the increase in siltation, resulting in a reduction in cultivated land and decreased fertility.
Consequences on the human population
The countries in the Lake Chad Basin, known to be one of the prominent African players in the agricultural industry, are seeing their production melt away. The region, which is usually based on rice, market gardening, and livestock, is strongly threatened due to the less frequent rains. Agriculture near Lake Chad is a significant source of food for the entire country, and with current decreases, in rainfall, the whole country is at risk of severe famine. The people are forced to migrate to other countries to survive.
THE CREATION OF A COMMISSION
As early as 1962, the riparian states of Lake Chad had become aware of environmental degradation and the potential risks for the lake’s water supply, and the access and peaceful management of natural resources for the riparian populations. On May 22, 1964, the heads of four riparian states of Lake Chad (Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad) signed the Fort Lamy Convention, which created a permanent consultation structure called the “Lake Chad Basin Commission.” Its primary mission is to ensure the integrated management of water and fishery resources in the lake basin. However, one of the underlying tasks assigned to the Lake Chad Basin Commission at its inception was also to ensure the maintenance of peace and security in the lake region. (LCBC, 2020)
In conclusion, the drying up of Lake Chad would be a natural disaster that would forever mark the African continent’s history. More than 20 million people depend on Lake Chad for both fishings and fetching incredibly fresh water. In the opinion of many, and as Mr. Jacques Cheminade expresses it well, Lake Chad would be: “The lung of water and vector of economic life for Central Africa.”(Jacques Cheminade, 2010) Everything suggests that the total drying up of the lake has unprecedented consequences for these Central African countries. Massive job losses, emigration of almost half of the population living near the lake, and famine risk.
One possible solution to refloating the lake is to transfer the water from Lake Oubangui to Lake Chad. The river has its source in the Democratic Republic of Congo via the Chari river. To transfer the water, it would be necessary to dig a canal of about 1,350 km that would pass through the Central African Republic. However, this method is not unanimous because it is feared that this channel would have too great an impact on the biodiversity of the Oubangui River. It would also be important for governments to make the population aware of this problem because things have to change.
Cyrès, G. (2020). The Sahel in the midst of climate change. SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL. Retrieved 28 March 2021, from https://www.solidarites.org/en/live-from-the-field/the-sahel-in-the-midst-of-climate-change/.
Pandey, K. (2017). Lake Chad’s forgotten crisis. Downtoearth.org.in. Retrieved 28 March 2021, from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/water/lake-chad-forgotten-crisis-56974.
Ross, W. (2018). Lake Chad: Can the vanishing lake be saved?. Retrieved 28 March 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-43500314
UN: Sahel region one of the most vulnerable to climate change – Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. Climatecentre.org. (2018). Retrieved 28 March 2021, from https://www.climatecentre.org/news/1066/un-sahel-region-one-of-the-most-vulnerable-to-climate-change.