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Saving Lake Chad; Body of water has decreased by 90 percent

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Bordered by Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, Lake Chad has in the last 50 years shrunk by 90 percent. Approaching from Gulfe, a small locality 27 miles from Cameroon's Far North Regional capital Maroua, the atmosphere of neglect is everywhere apparent. There is dusty air, fierce and unrelenting winds, wilting plants and sand dunes. This once verdant area is quickly growing sterile and sere, devastating the area surrounding it.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Due to sparse rainfall, the two main rivers that feed the lake, the Chari and the Logone are bringing in less and less water each year.

Those who have relied for generations on the rich soil of this basin are now scrambling as the great lake vanishes before their very eyes.

On the banks of the lake, Mahamat Aboubakar is disentangling a tiny black catfish from a large net.

"Before, you needed to cast the net just a few times to get thousands of fish," fisherman Mahamat Aboubakar says. "But today, it may require a whole day's work to get this," he says, pointing to his paltry catch, worth only about two dollars, likely to be his only income for the day.

The 64-year old fisherman could earn as much as 50 dollars during the lake's heyday. He can only expect his catch to get smaller and his income dwindling along with it, as the lake's waters continue to recede.

"This is a disaster," Sanusi Imran Abdullahi, executive director of the Lake Chad Basin Commission says. "It is already taking its toll on residents around the lake," he adds. In order to prevent a potentially catastrophic situation, "we are working to save Lake Chad and the 30 million people whose livelihoods depend on the natural resources" of this water body.

However - experts point out that it is impossible to blame the crisis on one single factor.

"Desertification, climate change as well as the continuous diversion of water from the rivers that feed the lake is responsible," environmentalist Paul Ghogomou of the University of Yaounde in Cameroon says.

Ghogomou explains that water from Cameroon's Chari River - which, fed by its tributary, the Logone, provides over 90 percent of Lake Chad's water is being diverted to irrigation projects in the surrounding area.

In the meantime, dams built along the Jama'are and Hadejia Rivers in northeastern Nigeria are "partly responsible for the shrinkage," he says.

The growing population around the area is stretching the lake to breaking point. "Forty years ago, the population within the Lake Chad area was about 17 million. Now, we number about 30 million. So rising demand by the population, the rising numbers of livestock as well as massive evaporation as a result of climate change have all combined to shrink the lake," he notes.

The local farmers and fishermen are showing resilience, adapting as best they can to a looming crisis. If the lake does not return, however, even the remaining humidity left by its receding waters will evaporate, and farmers will be left with few options for a livelihood.

Can this disaster be averted? In an effort to implement more sustainable solutions, member countries of the LCBC - Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and the Central African Republic have developed an ambitious plan to replenish the lake with water from the Obangui, a tributary of the Congo River.

The project will involve the "construction of a retention dam at Palambo (upstream of the CAR's capital Bangui) to serve as a catchment area. The high flow through pumping will then enter River Fafa - a tributary of Ouham - and by gravity through a 1,350-kilometre-long feeder channel in to the River Chari in Cameroon and then to Lake Chad.

"There is so much water in the Congo that goes into the ocean. We are just going to take a fraction of it to save the lives of 30 million people who depend on the lake for their survival," he says.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

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