SHRINKING: A young boy takes water from Lake Chad to drink, in Koudouboul, Chad, in 2006. The lake that once provided livelihoods for 20 million people in West-Central Africa, from Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger, has shrunk by 90 percent in the past 30 years. Picture: AP

The member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), faced with a major source of water drying up and threatening the livelihoods of millions and prompting frustrated communities to join terror groups in the region, have come up with a raft of proposals they are confident will thwart an impending catastrophe.

It emerged at a recent meeting in Yaoundé, Cameroon, that the lake could dry up in the next 25 years if measures were not devised to save the lake, which is the continent’s largest endorheic drainage basin |(a closed drainage basin that retains water and allows no outflow to |other external bodies of water), benefiting about 45 million inhabitants.

In an exclusive interview with CAJ News Africa, Mana Boubakary, the representative of executive secretary of the LCBC Mohamed Imran Abdullahi, said the lake had shrunk by more than 90 percent from its 1960 levels.

At its peak, Lake Chad covered 25 000km2, a far cry from the 2 000km2 it covers now.

There is some debate as to why the lake is disappearing, but the leading theory is the unsustainable use of the lake by governments and local communities has resulted in overuse and the lake not having sufficient time to refill.

However, another theory suggests that air pollution in Europe has shifted rainfall patterns further south, making the region dryer and not allowing the lake to replenish itself.

Unsubstantiated reports suggest the drying up of the lake has put many fishermen and farmers out of business, and as a result they are now joining Boko Haram, the Islamic militant group whose violent activities have killed about 20 000 people and displaced more than 2 million in the Lake Chad Basin.

This ties in with a UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Soil Degradation report, titled “Desertification: The Invisible Frontline”.

The UN entity reports that “the effects of desertification are increasingly felt globally as victims turn into refugees, internally displaced people and forced migrants, or they turn to radicalisation, extremism or resource-driven wars for survival”.

In the wake of the receding lake, experts who attended the meeting in Cameroon devised a $955 million development and adaptation plan to cover the period between next year and 2025.

“We are looking at developing agriculture, fisheries and pastoralism in the area,” Boubakary said.

He said the plan also aimed to develop infrastructure such as roads to enable farmers to get their produce to the markets, as well as electricity that should enable locals to transform their produce and ensure greater returns from value addition.

While the six countries of the LCBC – Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR) – and donors are expected to raise much of the money, World Bank lead water specialist Marie-Laure La Jolie called for innovative ways of funding.

“I think we could probably make use of the Green Fund to finance part of the project,” she said.

“These are funds that are used to help countries come up with adaptation and mitigation projects related to climate change.”

She explained that such funds sought to support green initiatives such as promoting innovative and high-impact programmes and projects as well as reinforcing climate policy objectives through green interventions.

An even more ambitious plan that the members of the LCBC have agreed to is replenishing the lake with water from the Obangui, a tributary of the Congo River.

Swaibou Mahaman, an environmental expert with the LCBC, said the water transfer project would entail installing a pipe and piping the water from the 4 700km long river to Lake Chad.

It would involve building a retention dam at Palambo, upstream of the CAR’s capital Bangui, to serve as a catchment area.

The high flow through pumping and gravity will direct water through a 1 350km long feeder channel into the River Chari in Cameroon, and then to Lake Chad.

Mahaman said the Congo had |so much water and that a fraction |of it would save the lives of well |over 30 million people who depended on Lake Chad for |their survival.

It will also mean extending electricity supply and ensuring |river transportation to move goods from east to west across Africa, and develop irrigation and agro-industry in the region.

“All this will improve economic activity in a region already suffering from crippling poverty,” Mahaman said.

Boubakary believes refilling |Lake Chad is crucial to end the |Boko Haram insurgency that |has impacted on most LCBC countries.

“When you have so many unemployed youths, as is the case in the Lake Chad Basin, the risk that they will fall prey to terrorist trappings is always high.

“It is necessary to refill the lake and bring back the economic activities that used to be associated with it,” he said.

However, implementing such plans would require a colossal $14.5 billion.

Abdullahi, the LCBC executive secretary, is hopeful the private sector will play an important part in raising the required funds.

“As long as funders are guaranteed a return on their investment, I am sure they will be interested,” he said in Yaoundé.– CAJ News