Lake Chad is dying: bordered by four countries--Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon--lake Chad was once the 6th largest lake in the world. Today it is fast disappearing, putting the lives of millions of people at risk. Valerie Noury reports.

Author:Noury, Valerie
Position::WEST AFRICA - Report

Lake Chad is disappearing. The consequences are as severe as the causes are mysterious. No one doubts that urgent action is required but the prospect of any action being taken seems as elusive as ever. The real catastrophe of Lake Chad lies in the value it holds for local populations that live in its drainage basin. Located on the edge of the Sahara desert, it is estimated that up to 30 million people depend on the lake as a fresh water resource.

Due to the ongoing process of the lake's retreat into the desert, more and more individuals are concentrated around the lake's ever-shortening periphery, giving rise to a series of conflicts between farmers and fishermen, and established and non-established landowners.

Studies conducted in the basin show that the activities of the subsistence-based economy (fishing, farming and herding) are closely integrated--they all depend on the lake for their very survival. This means that the entire surrounding area is affected, irrespective of individuals' wealth levels.

Local resources have clearly been exploited to the point at which they may be unable to recover. The trade of fishermen is evidently affected, The number and size of fish caught is getting smaller year after year, depleting irreparably the predominant local food source.

Due to the direct impact which the lake's vitality has on food security and migration pattetns, an alarming vicious cycle has occurred; producing greater and greater insecurity and social instability. If immediate remedial action is not taken, a major humanitarian crisis beckons. So far, even organising a study of the problem has appeared to be an expensive and problematic exercise.

Experts have been debating the causes of the retreating lake without clear agreement. What is happening, and why, is not fully understood; hindering efforts to find a solution, which all agree is necessary.

On the one hand, the issue can, and is being, attributed entirely to natural causes. According to fossil evidence, the lake has fully dried out completely a dozen times in the past 1,000 years.

In part, this is because Lake Chad is a naturally shallow lake, with a maximum depth of a mere 7 metres. This aspect explains the lake's vulnerability to fluctuations in climate: especially in a region where evaporation rates are known to be four times as high as rainfall.

It is hard to remain hopeful when the lake's main source of water comes from the monsoon rains that typically fall in June, July and...

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