The Disappearing Lake

The lake is shared by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, but is rapidly disappearing and destabilising what it leaves behind.

Map taken from the BBC highlighting the extent of the desertification

Map taken from the BBC highlighting the extent of the desertification

Today Lake Chad is only a fifth of its original size. The desertification of Lake Chad has destroyed the livelihoods of all those who used to rely on the lake for its fishing stocks or for irrigation. The region is now haunted by draught and instability, as the Boko Haram take advantage of this humanitarian crisis. Lake Chad provides us with a tragic example of just how the decimation of our environment will have catastrophic human consequences.

Global warming has been claimed to be a contributing factor in the situation, and we all know who’s the giver of that great gift to the world. However, global warming is not what I’m going to discuss here. In this post I hope to convey that the symptoms of global warming are not just melting ice caps. There is a real human cost to our negligence that we can’t ignore just because it’s ‘not in our back yard.’

Admittedly global warming is not the sole problem; irresponsible irrigation systems, slash and burn farming techniques and the damming of rivers that feed the Lake Chad harbour some of the blame. Hydropower can absolutely be a great way of sourcing environmentally sound energy. However, this situation perhaps highlights some of the restrictions that are necessary when we do intervene in natural water cycles for our own benefit.

Image taken from National Geographic

Image taken from National Geographic

This water crisis is affecting 17 million people across all four countries. The combination of violence and climate change has led to a harrowing situation for millions. The desertification of Lake Chad is now being referred to as 'the most neglected crisis in the world.' Tragically, those that have fled their homes in search of livelihood find themselves trapped between various armies and the Boko Haram. The perilous conflict in the region prevents aid agencies from reaching the people that need support, and stops journalists from being able to report on the tragedy. Perhaps this is why the humanitarian crisis is manifesting so silently, or perhaps its because we have become so numb to the stories of droughts and famine that we no longer recognise their severity.


Unfortunately, this is an incredibly multifaceted situation, involving numerous countries, armies, rebel groups, and contributing environmental factors. By no means am I saying that the disappearing lake is the sole cause of violent extremism in the region. However, it is certainly not helping the situation. It is a well-known fact that instability can create cracks in communities that allow for extremism to seep in and intensify humanitarian crises.

This is recognised by the Governments in the region. The Lake Chad Basin Commission has eight members, the four countries bordering Lake Chad, and four other countries in close proximity. The aim of the Commission is to regulate and control the use of natural resources  in the basin and to initiate, promote, and coordinate natural resource development projects and research.

At the end of February this year an international conference was held in Abuja on saving Lake Chad. The conference concluded that the Transaqua Project, which will take water from the River Congo and divert it via the Chari River basin to Lake Chad, is the best solution. However, this will be no mean feat, as we all know, saving the environment requires a multilateral approach. Lake Chad requires a Pan-African response. 

People have already criticised the plan, calling it ridiculous. The worrying thing is, with estimates of 10.7 million people currently relying of humanitarian relief to survive, we can’t really afford for it to fail.

The really frustrating part of this story is that these plans were originally proposed in the 80’s but were apparently ‘met with deafening silence.’ However, now that Lake Chad is enveloped in the deepest humanitarian crisis of our time (despite the lack of media coverage) it is finally being taken seriously.

The thing that really gets me, is that it has taken the complete upheaval of the region and millions of displaced people to reach an action point. *Please refer to previous blog post conclusion regarding listening to warning bells.*

Here’s my plea to you: I would soon like to write about a situation where the intervention happened before the crisis. I’m open to suggestions.


Kimberley Somerside