Save Lake Chad now

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

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.

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