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Saving the Lake Chad


President Muhammadu Buhari...

President Muhammadu Buhari…

THERE is every cause for President Muhammadu Buhari’s latest plea for urgent funds to save the Lake Chad. His concern, once again, underscores the growing anxiety over the fate of the drastically dwindled water body and the obvious consequences on livelihood systems and biodiversity, should the Lake become extinct in the harsh arid ecosystem.

That Lake Chad is critical to the survival of some 20 million riparian populations in the surrounding four basin countries is a significant reality. Therefore, there are bound to be adverse consequences on both human and ecological systems as the water dries up. Already, the poor condition of the lake has over the years, been impacting adversely on the dependants.

The president’s concern came in his directive to the Federal Ministry of Environment to revert to a 1920 report on the Lake for solutions to the water body’s endemic problems. Clearly, he is interested in turning the lake’s fortunes around; but to achieve that desire, Buhari needs to match his words with concrete action, in collaboration with many other stakeholders.

President Buhari spoke at the Africa Renewable and Adaptation/Loss and Damage Initiative hosted by the Committee of the African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), in Paris, France, where he made an urgent appeal to the G7 countries and the United States for $14 billion to revive the Lake Chad and save the dependent communities.

He reiterated that following a sharp reduction in the size of the Lake by over 93 per cent from 25,000 km2 in 1925 to the present mere 2,500 km2, the Lake Chad Replenishment Project was proposed over a decade ago to redress the situation. Unfortunately, not much has been done to save the situation.

The dwindling fortunes of the Lake have adversely affected millions of people mainly from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. The results, Buhari noted, are increased social conflicts, high rate of migration and cross border movements.

Buhari disclosed that no fewer than five million people living around the Lake Chad basin countries had been displaced by the depletion of the Lake due to climate change, noting that in some parts of northern Nigeria, a farm that used to belong to 10 people now belongs to over 100 people. People have no other land for cultivation.

It is noteworthy that Buhari used the occasion of the United Nations Climate Conference to, once again, bring the issue of Lake Chad to global front burner. The precarious state of the Lake has been there for over four decades when the water body degeneration started. That, in a way, informed the establishment of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in 1964, originally, by Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon with Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Algeria and Sudan admitted later for their proximity to the Lake.

The LCBC is the oldest and most visible body widely recognised as being responsible for the management of the reservoir. The body has the duty to regulate and control the utilisation of the water and promote the settlement of disputes and regional cooperation. Though fairly active, the commission’s activities have not yielded appreciable improvement in the overall Lake replenishment. The degradation of the Lake escalated under the watchful eyes of the commission which was unable to do anything worthwhile, to halt it. To that extent, the commission was a notable failure.

Buhari’s renewed interest to recreate the Lake should be seen as a last ditch effort to salvage the water body from total extinction; and should form a rallying point for the regional stakeholders, in particular, for action.

A number of proposals to save the lake had been tabled for long without implementation, apparently, due to lack of funding, and perhaps absence of political will or concession. Among the proposals is the inter-basin water transfer from the Oubangui River in Central African Republic through a navigable canal of about 150 km to Lake Chad.

Conceived in 2002 in Yaounde, Cameroon, the proposal aims to restore the Lake’s water and ecosystem to appreciable level. A proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is needed prior to implementing the project, particularly to address any controversy that may arise over the environmental impact of such a major project.

In addition, the low economic fortune of the member states of the basin commission has made it difficult for the countries to meet their financial obligations; while the Boko Haram insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria, where the Lake is situated, has further dampened efforts at revamping it.

Nevertheless, reports that the Commission earmarked N13 billion to tackle the insurgency is commendable, and may be the first step to making progress on the vexed issue. But there must also be stability in the region before any project could be successfully implemented.

Raising the $14 billion requested by Buhari appears to be a major task now. Nigeria should spearhead a multilateral cooperation with other stakeholders in the quest for this fund. All possible diplomatic channels should be explored in seeking the fund. The components of the budget should be streamlined with the already mapped out action plan.

It is imperative that nations and donors cooperate with Nigeria in raising the fund because of the critical position of Lake Chad. Regard should be had for actions that are sustainable, and in the overall interest of the dependent population and the ecosystem.

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