A Lake, Its Wars And Disappearing Sinks By Kolo Kenneth Kadiri
To say “Lake Chad”, is a syntax. This is because Chad is a local word, meaning “a large expanse of water”. In other words, a lake. So, in English language, ‘lake lake’ is apparently a syntax. An endorheic (it is closed, retains its water and allows no outflow to other external bodies of water but converges in to lakes and swamps) lake, the lake Chad is a remnant of the former inland sea, paleolake Mega-Chad, which in its prime, was estimated to cover an area larger than the current-day Caspian Sea, and was the largest of four Saharan paleolakes. However, between 1963 and 1998, it shrunk up to 95% and depth has dropped from a high, 11 metres to an average depth of 1.5 metres now. Its shallow depth means that its 72 km3 volume of water is very small relative to that of Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria which have similar surface areas.
Although the entire Lake Chad basin holds 179 species of fishes, the lake itself is home to 84 species and more than 44 species of algae amongst other flora and fauna. Without an apparent outlet, the Chad’s waters percolate in to the Soro and Bodele depressions, with numerous floating islands amongst which is the Bogomerom archipelago. The Chad owes life to the Chari and Komadugu-Yobe Rivers which drains in to it; with about 90% coming from the Logone in the far West, which drains in to the Chari River stretching 1,400km2 in the Chad Republic and some parts of Cameroon and the Central African Republic.
The apparent flourish of the Chad basin due to the draining system of the region, is evidenced by lush savannah which thrives in a swath of Southern Chad as well as the North Eastern tip of Nigeria, considering the catchment area of the Komadugu-Yobe River, the largest drainage in to lake Chad from Nigeria, with tributaries stretching 148,000km2 from as far as the Jos Plateau. This vegetation swath includes the Hadejia-Nguru wetlands – now covering 80,000ha from an initial 300,000ha, with a loss of $11million annually – within the Chad River Basin Reserve (Chingurmi-Duguma, Bade-Nguru and Bulatura) which provides economic relief to up to 15million people through agriculture, fisheries and water according to the Joint Wetlands Livelihood Project, although the organization, Global International Waters say up to 20million people rely on the Komadugu-Yobe River. The basin also contains the Buratai, Gujba, Sambisa, and Erwa game and forest reserves, which owing to disrepair, dearth of conservation and a fast approaching desert, have either been deserted or being currently occupied by the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
While there has been a major call by conservationists for the government of Nigeria to take serious, the issue of protecting endangered and rare species of flora and fauna; this call has not come down seriously, as there have been counter calls in the recent past from opinion shapers and the general citizenry for a destruction of certain parts of the Chad River Basin Reserves, to aid the police action, carried out by the Nigerian Army, to expunge Boko Haram and end a protracted insurgency in that region of the country. The apparent insecurity witnessed by the people of the North-East of Nigeria is also now being witnessed by the ecosystem.
With 16% of the total Nigerian population or 27.2 million people live within 179,300 skm of the Chad River Basin and the construction of atleast 20 dams with the Tiga Dam built in 1974 as the first of many on the river’s drainage system, including the various diversion of water by farmers for irrigational purposes, mean that only about 2% of the flow reach lake Chad, while even the Hadejia-Nguru wetlands have since shrunk, due to the lack of water to keep it alive. This has ensured that desertification encroaches faster, and droughts are more frequent, leaving large swaths of land perched, and population, rendered helpless as climate refugees. With about 60% of the population living with the Lake Chad Basin cutting across all four countries living below $2 per day, the effects of climate and human activity on the basin’s drainage means that young unemployed men are easy recruits for armed bands which have scarred the region with continued conflicts.
While in 1981, the conflict between Nigeria and Cameroon, after receding waters had caused Nigerian locals to cross in to Cameroon and setup 30 villages under Nigerian military and civilian administrations., in 1983 the conflict was between the Nigerian and Chadian armies over disputed causing casualties and a flow of refugees in to Nigeria, forcing Nigeria to close that border until 1986. Thus, during the drought of 1973-1975, Darak, Naira and Ramin Drinna were established by Nigerians in Cameroon, while following the shores of a receding lake, due to drought. There have been numerous recorded and unrecorded conflicts for the lake, its basin and resources ever since. There is also evidence for more conflicts to arise in the future, due to demographic skewness.
Evidence shows that apart from the natural movement of inhabitants of the Chad River Basin, refugees fleeing conflicts in Niger and Chad, as well as some parts of Central African Republic and Western Sudan and South Sudan have had to migrate in to the basin to flee various conflicts, causing further stress to an already stressed ecosystem, as more demand for water increases, and less water to nourish the flora and fauna of the basin mean the basin dries up. This means that even more carbon sinks which should be a stop-gap for recycling the carbon dioxide and replenishing the area with oxygen are disappearing. Wetlands are drying up, as well as swamps and small rivers. A recent discovery of oil reserves underneath the Chad basin by all four countries even puts the people and the ecosystem in to dire straits, as exploration for economic gains by Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria will inadvertently place the final straw that breaks this tired donkey’s back.
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