Lake Chad facing humanitarian disaster

Shrinking water resources are threatening people and livelihoods - FAO calls for urgent interventions

15 October 2009, Rome - The humanitarian disaster looming at the shrinking Lake Chad in central Africa should be urgently addressed, FAO said today.

The lake, which is surrounded by Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, was once one of the world's largest water bodies. Due to climatic variability, climate change and population pressure over recent decades, the lake has shrunk by 90 percent, from 25 000 square kilometers in 1963 to less than 1500 square kilometers in 2001.

If water continues to recede at the current rate, Lake Chad could disappear in about twenty years from now, according to NASA climate forecasts.

Together with the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), FAO will organize a special event ("Saving Lake Chad: A System under Threat") in Rome during World Food Day on October 16, 2009. The event is aimed at raising awareness about the disastrous situation of Lake Chad and mobilizing funds to replenish the lake and improve overall food security in the region.   

The 30 million people living in the Lake Chad region are being forced into sharper competition for water. The drying-up of the lake and deterioration of the production capacity of its basin have affected all the socio-economic activities. Overuse of water and land resources is also a major cause of migration and conflicts.

In addition to an approximately  60 percent decline in fish production, there has been degradation of pasturelands, leading to a shortage of animal feed estimated at 45 percent in certain places in 2006, reduction in livestock and biodiversity.

"The humanitarian disaster that could follow the ecological catastrophe needs urgent interventions," said Parviz Koohafkan, Director of Land and Water Division of FAO. "The tragic disappearance of Lake Chad has to be stopped and the livelihoods of millions of people living in this vast area should be safeguarded."

FAO closely collaborates with the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), founded in 1964. Lake Chad Basin countries are meeting regularly to regulate and control the utilization of water and other natural resources in the Basin. They are actively seeking new models of Adaptive Water Management that take account of traditional agricultural techniques as well as the need to ensure food security for the people of the region.

According to the Lake Chad Basin Commission, the diminished flow of water into the lake requires a radical change in water management techniques and a scheme to replenish Lake Chad.

The flow of the two main sources of replenishment for the lake, the Chari and Logone rivers have decreased significantly in the last 40 years. The feasibility study for an ambitious programme to divert water flow from the Oubangui, the major tributary of the Congo River, into the Chari river system will be presented at the meeting in Rome.

Photo: ©FAO/Marzio Marzot
When the water recedes ...