Crying for Water in Chad River Basin

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Aaron Kaah
September 2, 2011

In this story, our network member takes on the role of a citizen journalist with an aim of bringing you unrestricted grassroot information about what is happening to Lake Chad – one of the largest Lakes in Africa that provides water to more than 30 million people.

As the Cameroon-based Aaron Kaah reports, climate change and overuse of this lake’s waters are rapidly leading to the disappearance of this great lake. This is putting the lives of people there at stake.

The Chad Lake basin has a surface area of 1 million square miles around it, including the far north region of Cameroon.

The Chad Lake basin

Since this once might inland sea shrunk by 90% in the 1970’s this region has become one of the poorest regions of the world. Yet even as the Lake Chad shrunk, the population of the region grew.

An estimated 37 million people now live here, many of whom migrated recently from the Sahel region just to the north where arid land is turning into a desert.

The combination of disappearing resources and the increasing demand is making an already fragile poor region even poorer. Crop production has fallen as water becomes very increasingly scarce.

The Lake Chad Basin is occupied by Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Congo and Central African Republic.

The Basic Resources
In the far north region of Cameroon all the river beds have dried up and the food crops on the farm fields have turned into dry sticks in the sand dunes. As families try to make the most of the scanty resources women and children trek long distances crying for water.

Dried up Part of Chad Lake Basin

The grazing of livestock and the destruction of the forest for fuel wood advances the encroachment of the desert. This year the dry season has extended to seven months and only three bags of grain and millet can be a family’s source of primary income and three square meals in a year.

This bad situation is becoming precarious as the farmers plant too much food crops and too densely on the same pieces of land. This is killing and exhausting the soils. The sad story is that agricultural output has fallen in the Lake Chad river basin even as the climate changes put an already fragile situation to a mess.

The story of the Lake Chad basin is exactly what scientists have been echoing worldwide. This is a simple eulogy in response to the climate changes, the unsustainable land use systems, lack of water and forest destruction.

As one tour the far north region of Cameroon, the land is fast turning in to a desert as the inhabitance live in near famine conditions

The Evidence
Change in the Lake Chad basin is constant and the people who made their homes are learning to make the most of this with the available resources around. They farm and harvest their crops in the extreme conditions, sometimes following the rainy season which is always uncertain.

This year the rainy season has skipped for about seven months from November to June with a dry and very dusty weather.

According to the farmers in the far north region of Cameroon, Lake Chad basin flooded regularly in history providing fertile soils for the subsistent farmers in the area. But because of it extreme shallow nature the Lake fluctuated dramatically making the farming activities in the basin and area uncertain.

The Global International Waters Assessment, in a study of the region published by the United Nations, says the Lake changed from short and back again to its original size. The fishermen off the shores chased this shifting pattern.

As time is passing, this irregular pattern has witnessed another story. The Sahel region which covers the basin right up to the north of Sahara is drying up and in the last 30 years the UN, in a report, said the Lake Chad basin area has attracted “the most substantial and sustained decline in rainfall measured anywhere in the world today.” This is blamed on the rising ocean temperatures leading to global warming.

Local Peoples’ in dilemma
As the Sahel dries up, many of the people who are nomads are chasing the south of the basin in search of arid land. But as the lake shrinks the rainy season is fading out as well.

As the population in the basin grows and its climate changes, the locals are striving to make the most of the limited resources available in the region and to control the disappearing resources.
The normal life out there is not ease as the farmers struggle to adjust with the shifting river beds.

Lake Chad once occupied this area.

When the lake flooded large scale of agricultural production took place in the area but today sand dunes have taken over the farm fields. Some projects to irrigate farm land instead drain away fertile wetlands.

As the streams were diverted, farming along the basin diminished. Without the plant cover, the temperatures in the soils raised and water in soils evaporated swiftly.

As the mismanagement of the land by the desperate poor is increasing, the vegetation is also lost

As one tours the region farm land and roads are buried under sand dunes and as the people strive for more in nothing, the basin is prone to violence.Many villagers tussle for water resources and grazing fields. And for many people daily life is changing as violence is also encroaching.

In the Nigerian section of the Lake, some villages are buried under sand dunes as the desert extends south wards and many people are becoming “environmental refugees”.

In the nearby Sudan’s region of Darfur, this situation has reached crisis proportions as at least 200,000 died since civil war broke out there in 2003. The United Nations secretary general Koffi Anan called it “no accident|” that the violent in Darfur erupted during the drought in the Sahel where precipitation has declined 40% since the 1980’s. He also attributed strife in Burkina Faso, Somalia and the Ivory Coast to a “similar volatile mix of and water insecurity”.

A development organization -Heifer International Cameroon is helping the villages in the far north region of Cameroon to make the most of the resources on the ground. Farmers under various organizations are taught simple ways of pasture establishment, animal management and other ways of improving nutrition and hygiene in their homes.

The knowledge, most of these groups are earning is key to the development of their lives and homes.

One of the beneficiaries- Mama Bitang has awakened her life and that of her family with 9 dependents. This widow has fought poverty too well with Heifer donated animals (sheep) and mentoring through her Femmes Ambiteuses common initiative group.

Unfortunately this stitch in time is not enough as the means is limited. People who live in this basin are seeing little or no benefits from international efforts to help them. In 2008 an international organization Global Environment Facility mapped out a 20 year plan as a start to a revolution to reforests the land and change water diversion policies in the area but the task has been too slow.

According to Heifer International Cameroon only 3% of household in the far north region of Cameroon with 6 million people have access to potable water.

AS an urgent remedy is sort, the efforts to institute broad base policies is not helping at all, because the basin is fragmented by controversial policies laid down by the different governments around the Lake basin and the unnecessary numerous tribal conflicts.

With limited means or infrastructures, information dissemination is poor, making it a challenging task to educate people on the issues at stake and to introduce broad base policies.

And despite the best efforts of a community that depends on one another, it remains difficult to overcome the stultifying effects of the droughts. And who doubts that Violence erupts where resources are scanty.

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