Save Lake Chad now
The Environmental Audit of the Drying Up of the Lake Chad report submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari recently once again brought to the fore the urgency of doing something to save Lake Chad from drying up completely, with untold consequences on the lives of nearly 30 million people in four countries that inhabit the basin.
Auditor General of the Federation Mr. Samuel Ukura, who presented the report, said the key message in it is that “Lake Chad is drying up very fast.” This lake, once the fourth largest on the African continent, has shrunk from a size of 25,000 square kilometres in 1963 to one tenth of that at present. Many experts link the insecurity problem that has bedevilled the region around Lake Chad in recent years to this environmental catastrophe that has befallen the region.
If his repeated return to the issue at various fora is any guide, then President Buhari intends to seriously address this problem and push through with long stalled plans for the lake’s revival. Even as president-elect, Buhari said during a meeting in Kaduna with Borno State elders that he will pay serious attention to the issue, alongside the Boko Haram problem. He repeated the pledge at a meeting in France last month. He also directed the Federal Ministry of Environment to submit to him its plan for the lake’s revival when he met with its permanent secretary and directors in August. His familiarity with and his interest in the matter is to be expected since Buhari was once the military governor of the old North Eastern State that encompassed the entire Nigerian side of the Lake Chad basin. He was also once General Officer Commanding the army’s Three Armoured Division with security responsibilities for the entire North East region.
Four decades ago Lake Chad had an elevation of about 286 metres (938 ft) above sea level and it had an area of more than
25,000 square kilometers. Forty years ago fishermen in four countries used to land 180,000 tonnes of fresh fish annually from the lake, which were smoked or dried and then taken by trucks to markets in all parts of the four countries, including Nigeria. The lake’s shrinking over the years has already caused many other problems apart from the loss of food sources and means of livelihood. As we discovered during the dispute over Nigeria’s boundary with Cameroun following the Bakassi dispute, the international border across Lake Chad became obscured because as the lake shrank, fishermen living on its banks followed it until some Nigerians found themselves more than 100 kilometers deep into Chad.
Studies by the LCBC, the United Nations Environmental Program [UNEP] as well as a 2001 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research blamed several factors for the lake’s steady decline. These include shifting climate patterns, poor human water use through inefficient damming and poor irrigation methods, overgrazing which leads to vegetation decline in the region as well as desertification.
The plan to save the lake by diverting water from the Ubangi/ Chari River in Central African Republic, a tributary of the Congo River, has been mentioned for over a decade now. The plan is supposed to be achieved through a high level of cooperation between member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and beyond. Such a plan was never going to be easy because diverting a major river’s water will create economic and environmental problems in other parts of Africa. But it was up to our leaders to work out the details as well as the compensation mechanism.
The cost of the project has also been mentioned as another obstacle in the way to its quick realization. It was estimated that this plan will cost $14 billion. Even though there was some international endorsement for it, it remains for Nigeria to lead the quest to mobilize these funds in order move this project from the dream stage to active realization. $14 billion sounds like a lot of money but the Boko Haram insurgency has already cost us that much in terms of human and material losses, spending to contain the problem as well as missed agricultural and other production opportunities.
If we don’t arrest this problem, it will only grow worse and will cost us much more in the future. President Buhari is well placed to break the jinx. He should move very fast to save Lake Chad before it is too late.