Lake Chad to become world heritage site in effort to saving most severe environmental crises in Sub Saharan Africa

By Amos Fofung

There is a need to act and save the Lake Chad Basin (photo: FAO)

Once considered the sixth largest lake in the world, Lake Chad has over the years shrunk to one-tenth of its original size bringing with it a trail of famine, conflict, and death to the countries that lie on the Lake Chad Basin.

Situated in the Sahel zone of West-Central Africa at the conjunction of Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger, Lake Chad has for decades supported the livelihood of over 40 million people. 

The dramatic shrinking of the lake has had far-reaching consequences. The populations of the Chad Basin countries, and beyond, have traditionally relied on its waters and those of its source rivers for survival.

A cocktail of unprecedented population growth, unregulated irrigation, climate change, and Boko Haram terror group activities, have conspired to choke the Lake forcing governments, climate activists and organizations to strategize on saving the Lake and its species.

According to Fair Planet, “in the 1960s, the Lake had on average 135 fish species, with fishermen netting 200,000 tonnes of fish each year which birthed a thriving fish business in the country with about 20,000 commercial fish sellers engaged in booming business.”

The report adds that “as the population continued growing and more people embraced farming and fishing demand for water increased. With government failing to encourage replenishing of water, and with climate change in Cameroon taking a toll on the lake, the water levels slowly started deteriorating.” 

“There were numerous alerts from both local scientists and international bodies as water levels started receding. If quick interventions had been taken by the early 1990s when the water levels started dropping too fast this could have been salvaged,” said Patrick Muhinze, a Ugandan scientist and expert in resources related conflicts in Sub Saharan Africa.

Initially, the lake covered some 26,000 square kilometers, but is today a pale shadow of its former self now only occupying a paltry 500 square kilometers.

Most alarming is the fact that experts are now warning that if the trend continues the lake will completely disappear in the next two decades.

Saving Lake Chad

Following on from decades of efforts to address the ongoing environmental decline, which has led to mass migrations and wide-scale insecurity in the sub-region, a three-day, International Conference on Saving Lake Chad took place in Abuja, Nigeria in February 2018. 

It was organized by the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin Commission, LCBC, with the support of UNESCO. This included a high-level meeting of leaders of member states of the LCBC. The conference aimed at creating global awareness of the socio-economic and environmental challenges arising from the dwindling of Lake Chad and the resulting threat to livelihoods that have seen increased insecurity; as well as to discuss ways of stopping the lake from drying up any further.

As part of efforts to preserve the area, the Lake Chad Basin is to become a world heritage site, following its nomination to the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO within the Biopalt Project.

Director, Water Resources Planning and Technical Support Services in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, of Nigeria, Alice Ojowu, disclosed at a consultative/informative meeting on the nomination of the Lake Chad to the World Heritage List.

The issue of preserving the Lake Chad came up for discussion between the Lake Chad Basin Commission and UNESCO after the summit of the Heads of State and Government in 2010, when UNESCO was called upon to nominate Lake Chad on the World Heritage list as a protected area and develop it with the preservation of its biodiversity and ecosystem as a priority, to ameliorate the livelihood of the population of the basin.

The provisional nomination file for the Lake Chad on the world heritage list is titled Lake Chad Cultural Landscape and will seek to address the fundamental problem of restoring the Lake Chad through participatory protective mechanism; while enhancing the sustainable development of the area.

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