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Lake Chad recedes dramatically

Moki Kindzeka / cmNovember 27, 2015

Countries that share Lake Chad will be asking world leaders at the climate talks in Paris to help them transfer water from the Congo basin. The once rich lake has lost 90 percent of its water due to climate change.

Chadian refugees use wooden canoes to cross Lake Chad.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Palitza

Kanada Souley casts his nets in the low waters of Lake Chad. The 40-year-old is one of the few fishermen in Katikine village in the Lake Chad basin who depend on fishing for their livelihood.

Souley said their catch has been falling as years go by, and as a result of that the number of fishermen has also taken a nose dive. In 1992, there were 55 fishermen in Katikine, now only 5 remain. "When we settled here, there were many trees and much grass," Souley said. "There were lots of animals and many people came here to fish, but now there is nothing. The fish are almost finished."

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has referred to Lake Chad's situation as an 'ecological catastrophe.' FAO has warned that the lake could totally disappear within this century.

Rising tensions as water dwindles

According to the UN, by 2012, nearly 30 million people in six countries were dependent on the lake. Recently, tensions have been rising among communities as more and more resources disappear with the drying lake. In only half a century, Lake Chad has lost 90 percent of its waters.

Leaders of the Lake Chad Basin Commission meeting in Abuja
Leaders of Lake Chad Basin Commission at a past meeting. They now want to refill Lake ChadImage: State House, Abuja

Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Libya who make up the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and whose populations depend on the lake, now plan to transfer water from the Congo River basin to the Chad River basin. The Congo basin is the world's second largest after the Amazon River.

Swaibou Mahaman, an environmental expert at the Lake Chad Basin Commission told DW the project should be given utmost importance by world leaders when they meet in Paris for talks on climate change. "Lake Chad has reduced by 90 percent since 1960 but the population that relies on the lake as the only source of livelihood has increased from 3.5 million to over 40 million inhabitants excluding animals, plants and birds that also exert pressure on the disappearing lake," Mahaman said.

Challenges of refilling Lake Chad

For the water refilling project in Lake Chad to go ahead, the governments of Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Congo Brazzaville must allow the six member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission to use water resources from their territories. The project is estimated to cost $14.5 billion (13.7 billion euros) but that money has yet to be found.

In an interview with DW, Mana Boukary, representative of the executive secretary of the LCBC, said the drying lake had brought untold suffering to people. Boukary also said Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram was now making use of the economic hardship around Lake Chad to recruit new members.

A man walks past a burnt house in Chad
Boko Haram has been accused of using the diminishing resources around Lake Chad to recruit militantsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"Youths in the Lake Chad basin are joining the Boko Haram terrorist group because of lack of jobs and difficult economic conditions resulting from the drying up of the lake and extinction of its resources," Boukary said.

Like many other river basins in the world, the drying up of Lake Chad has been attributed to changing weather patterns and human activity that leads to global warming.