Lake Chad Desertification: A Symptom of Global Climate Change

Posted by on Jul 4, 2012 in Earth SOS, Environmental Issues, Featured Slide, RECENT POSTS | Comments

Lake Chad Desertification: A Symptom of Global Climate Change

By EVELYN HARFORD  Published: July 4, 2012

A disturbing environmental trend, desertification is occurring globally. However one striking example of this phenomenon is the disappearance of Lake Chad. It is located between the borders of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria feeding large numbers of people, animals and plant life in the region. Lake Chad was one of the largest fresh bodies of water on the African continent and its disappearance will have a tremendous impact on the population surrounding it. The problem of Lake Chad is increasingly complex because of the international nature of the desertification. Lake Chad is a regional problem East African and North African member states of the AU and UN must deal with.  A collaborative approach to combating the desertification of Lake Chad is needed to reverse the current trends. Desertification is a process of drying which turns previously wet areas into areas classically defined as desert. The Sahara is moving southward drying the Chad Basin. Communities once dependent on the Lake are now finding it difficult to cope. Food insecurity and water insecurity are among many problems accompanying the desertification.

By Gordon Gahan, NGS Stock Photos

The international identification of desertification as a primary environmental concern 20 years ago has shed a closer look at the status of Lake Chad. “Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.”[1] Twenty years later at the 2012 Rio Earth Summit, again a topic for conversation was geared towards sustainable development. There was specific talk with Lake Chad Basin Commission, however, the question remains whether rhetoric will relate to reality on the ground. Since 1992, the situation has only become increasingly dire.

Fast Progression

Lake Chad Desertification: Images courtesy of NASA GSFC

An article by Coe and Foley indicates that “according to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, [Lake Chad] shrank as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998.”[2] The disappearance of Lake Chad will impact millions of people all of whom depend on the lake as their main source for drinking water, irrigation, and food. The region’s growing population dependent on the Lake combined with the reduction of water and resources has resulted in the exponential drying of Lake Chad.

There is debate about what is causing such rapid dying. Is it the larger problem of desertification and climate change, or over fishing and destructive local irrigation techniques?[3] It is clear through research that both are to blame, and whatever the cause this environmental crisis must be dealt with in a multifaceted approach.

Water Management

Poor water management, and irresponsible irrigation techniques have been used to feed crops on the shores of the Lake Chad region. Pumping large amount of water onto clay arid land. Since the SCIP’s (South Chad Irrigation Programme) implementation in 1974 the water has largely been unable to reach the in-take canal designed to transport water south west of the lake even in peak flood time.[4] The more recent endeavor, the Lake Chad Basin Commission

Decreasing Rainfall

The combination of decreasing rainfall, poor water management and according to UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme), accounts for the rapid desertification of Lake Chad. “Over the last 40 years, the discharge from the Chari/Logone river system at the city of N’Djamena in Chad has decreased by almost 75 percent…”(NASA, 2001) This decrease has lead to longer dry seasons, and the inability to feed local populations. The frequent famines surrounding the Lake Chad region will sadly only increase if nothing is done to reverse the desertification.

There is a lot at stake in saving Lake Chad. The “Lake Chad basin is home to over 20 million people with the majority dependent on the lake and other wetlands for their fishing, hunting, farming and grazing. But the basin is recognized as highly challenged by climate change, desertification and unsustainable management of water resources and fisheries, according to WWF [World Wildlife Foundation].”[5] Those who were once dependent on fishing now have to make the transition to farming. “Certainly where there is a decent water supply, [such as in Dugarri] the land can be highly productive. Near the village [BBC] saw maize, rice, okra, sweet potatoes and cassava.”[6] Historic traditions of regional ethnic groups are being disturbed. The World Bank highlights that in pilot projects surrounding lake Chad the “Recognition and support to traditional organizations of hunters, fishermen, women, pastoralists and foresters,” will be essential for success.[7] Representations from each of these groups in larger projects will aid in understanding the cultural intricacies of this disaster and what is necessary for each specific group.

 Who’s Fault is it?

One cannot simply blame over fishing, poor irrigation techniques, or ignorance for the desertification plaguing Lake Chad today. The multifaceted approach proposed by UNCCD in their 10 year plan (2008-2018), to combine poverty reduction with environmental sustainability is moving both environmental and livelihood issues facing the continent of Africa. The old phrase, “you can’t blame the victim” does hold true here. The people utilizing Lake Chad for their livelihood are limited by lack of education and investment in technology to implement more sustainable techniques for fishing, irrigation and “…a number of the farmers there complained that they have had no help with fertilizers or irrigation, and have to rely on residual water in the ground to make the land fertile.”[8]

 Environmental issues and poverty are inextricability linked in the context of Africa; combating these issues in an isolationist fashion would go against the interconnected realities of environmental and human livelihood. Boundaries limit success in the Chad Basin are caused and exacerbated by ethnic tensions.

Ahmad Salkida, writes in his article Africa’s vanishing Lake Chad Action needed to counter an “ecological catastrophe”, that:

The impact of the drying lake is causing tensions among communities around Lake Chad. There are repeated conflicts among nationals of different countries over control of the remaining water. Cameroonians and Nigerians in Darak village, for example, constantly fight over the water. Nigerians claim to be the first settlers in the village, while Cameroonians invoke nationalistic sentiments, since the village is within Cameroonian territory. Fishermen also want farmers and herdsmen to cease diverting lake water to their farmlands and livestock.”[9]

Hope for the Future

International donors are needed to fund many programs. Projects centered on Lake Chad’s desertification reversal highlights an important aspect of the climate change issue. The treatment of symptoms will not solve the larger problem of global climate change. It will take the efforts of people thousands of miles away in a combined effort to combat the global climate change. The improvement of the global condition will make it easier to accomplish the difficult task of desertification reversal.

“In 2010 WWF, which partnered with the LCBC [Lake Chad Basin Commission], the Ramsar Convention and the Global Environment Facility on projects in Lake Chad and with the governments on achieving the declaration, said: ‘the challenge now is to turn the promise of protection for Lake Chad into a reality for the millions that depend on it.’”[10] Commitment internationality has also been echoed by regional voices in “October 2010, [former] Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan stressed the collective determination of leaders of the LCBC member countries to salvage the lake.”[11] However it remains to be seen whether or not proposed projects by the UN, LCBC, the World Bank will result in relief that millions of people need.

Despite the doom and gloom there is evidence to suggest that, “The soils in the basin are young.”[12] And due to the wind patterns and average depth of Lake Chad there are, “high level of lake bio-mass.”[13]  Salvation of current levels and perhaps reversal of desertification may be possible from proposed river rerouting, conservation techniques, technology sharing, and dispersal of aid to prevent conflict.

The situation of Lake Chad highlights how environmental crisis can result in political, economic and social disparity. This is truly a dire situation and eventually there will be no lake left to save. “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called the situation an “ecological catastrophe,” predicting that the lake could disappear this century.”[14] This issue needs more attention and funding to aid those struggling in the Lake Chad region.

Bibliography

Birkett, M.-T. S. (2000). Fishing and Farming at Lake Chad: Responses to Lake-Level Fluctuations. Geographic Journal , 166 (2), 156-172.

Bloemen, S. (2011-09-02). Lake Chad’s receding water level heightens risks of malnutrition and disease. Retrieved 2012-20-06 from UNICEF: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/chad_57642.html

Bombford, A. (2006, 04 14). Slow death of Africa’s lake Chad. Retrieved 06 12, 2012, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4906692.stm

Braun, D. (2010-10-02). Lake Chad to be fully protected as international wetlands. Retrieved 2012-20-06 from National Geographic: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2010/02/02/lake_chad_ramsar_convention/

Coe M.T., Foley. J. (2001). “Human and natural impacts on the water resources of the Lake Chad basin. Journal of Geophysical Research , 106 (D4), 3349-3356.

NASA. (2001, 02 12). Why Africa’s Lake Chad Is Shrinking. Retrieved 06 20, 2012, from NASA Earth Observatory: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/view.php?id=21463

Salkida, A. (2012, 04). Africa’s Vanishing Lake: Action needed to counter an “ecological catastrophe”. Retrieved 07 03, 2012, from Africa Renewal: Online: http://www.un.org/en/africarenewal/vol26no1/lake-chad.html

UNCCD. (2012). About the Convention. Retrieved 2011-15-06 from United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification: http://www.unccd.int/en/about-the-convention/Pages/About-the-Convention.aspx

World Bank. (2002). Process Framework for the Mitigation of Social Impacts of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) Project . The World Bank Africa Safeguards Policy Enhancement Team , Africa Safeguards Policy Enhancement Team .

FURTHER READING/ VIDEOS:

http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/chad_57642.html

 http://vimeo.com/44124862

 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/04/0426_lakechadshrinks_2.html

 http://www.un.org/en/africarenewal/vol26no1/lake-chad.html


[1] UNCCD. (2012). About the Convention. Retrieved 06 15, 2011, from United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification: http://www.unccd.int/en/about-the-convention/Pages/About-the-Convention.aspx

[2] Coe M.T., Foley. J. (2001). “Human and natural impacts on the water resources of the Lake Chad basin. Journal of Geophysical Research , 106 (D4), 3349-3356.

[3] Bloemen, S. (2011, 02 09). Lake Chad’s receding water level heightens risks of malnutrition and disease. Retrieved 06 20, 2012, from UNICEF: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/chad_57642.html

[4] Birkett, M.-T. S. (2000). Fishing and Farming at Lake Chad: Responses to Lake-Level Fluctuations. Geographic Journal , 166 (2), 160.

[5] Braun, D. (2010, 02 10). Lake Chad to be fully protected as international wetlands. Retrieved 06 20, 2012, from National Geographic: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2010/02/02/lake_chad_ramsar_convention/

[6] Bombford, A. (2006, 04 14). Slow death of Africa’s lake Chad. Retrieved 06 12, 2012, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4906692.stm

[7] World Bank. (2002). Process Framework for the Mitigation of Social Impacts of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) Project . The World Bank Africa Safeguards Policy Enhancement Team , Africa Safeguards Policy Enhancement Team, 18.

[8] Bombford, A. (2006, 04 14). Slow death of Africa’s lake Chad. Retrieved 06 12, 2012, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4906692.stm

[9] Salkida, A. (2012, 04). Africa’s Vanishing Lake: Action needed to counter an “ecological catastrophe”. Retrieved 07 03, 2012, from Africa Renewal: Online: http://www.un.org/en/africarenewal/vol26no1/lake-chad.html

[10] Braun, D. (2010, 02 10). Lake Chad to be fully protected as international wetlands. Retrieved 06 20, 2012, from National Geographic: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2010/02/02/lake_chad_ramsar_convention/

[11] Salkida, A. (2012, 04). Africa’s Vanishing Lake: Action needed to counter an “ecological catastrophe”. Retrieved 07 03, 2012, from Africa Renewal: Online: http://www.un.org/en/africarenewal/vol26no1/lake-chad.html

[12] Birkett, M.-T. S. (2000). Fishing and Farming at Lake Chad: Responses to Lake-Level Fluctuations. Geographic Journal , 166 (2), 158.

[13] Birkett, M.-T. S. (2000). Fishing and Farming at Lake Chad: Responses to Lake-Level Fluctuations. Geographic Journal , 166 (2), 158.

[14] Salkida, A. (2012, 04). Africa’s Vanishing Lake: Action needed to counter an “ecological catastrophe”. Retrieved 07 03, 2012, from Africa Renewal: Online: http://www.un.org/en/africarenewal/vol26no1/lake-chad.html

468 ad

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>