The Key to Peace in the Lake Chad Area Is Water, Not Military Action

Fishing boats, Lake Chad. Credit: Mustapha Muhammad/IPS

By External Source
YOLA, Nigeria , Oct 2 2020 (IPS)

Lake Chad is an extremely shallow water body in the Sahel. It
was
once the world’s sixth largest
inland water body with an open
water area of 25,000 km2 in the 1960s, it shrunk dramatically at
the beginning of the 1970s and reduced to less than 2,000 km2
during the 1980s, decreasing by more than 90% its area. It is one
of the largest lakes in Africa. It is an endorheic lake – meaning
that it doesn’t drain towards the ocean.

Its origin is unknown but it is believed to be a
remnant of a former inland sea
. It doesn’t drain into the
ocean but it has shrunk by over 90% since the
1960s
due to climate change, an increase in the population and
unplanned
irrigation
. Given the rate at which the lake is disappearing,
in less than a decade it may cease to be.

The lake is central to regional stability. To achieve peace,
countries should focus on reviving the water body rather than on
military activities

Four countries share borders within the water body – Nigeria,
Chad, Niger and Cameroon – and have formed a political union, the
Lake Chad Basin Countries. Other countries indirectly connected to
the lake
are
Algeria, Libya, Central African Republic and Sudan. Over

30 million people
live around the lake.

For them, it’s a source of freshwater for drinking, sanitation
and irrigation. It supports the livelihoods of farmers,
pastoralists, hunters and fishermen.

The Lake Chad region, however, is
one of the most unstable
in the world. According to the

2020 Global Terrorism Index report
, countries of the region are
among the 10 least peaceful countries in Africa.

Our
research
focused on how the
drying
of this important water body contributes to the
instability in the region.

We collected data from interviews with respondents from Lac
Region in Chad, Far North Region in Cameroon, Diffa Region in Niger
Republic and the North East geopolitical zone in Nigeria. These
regions of the Lake Chad Basin
Commission
countries compose the Chad Basin Region. We also
collected data from news reports.

The study found that loss of livelihoods has promoted
criminality, easy recruitment by terrorist groups, and migration to
urban centres. This has also led to violence and crime in cities
and towns. Management of the shrinking lake has caused conflicts
among the states that depend on it and this has made it more
difficult for them to collectively fight insecurity in the
region.

The lake is central to regional stability. To achieve peace,
countries should focus on reviving the water body rather than on
military activities.

�

Impact on livelihoods

The immediate impact of the drying of Lake Chad is loss of
livelihoods.

One of the respondents said in an interview that:

Many years back, this water used to be what we depend on for
farming, fishing and herding. Since the water has dried up,
sustaining our livelihoods has become so hard. We can hardly farm
now and we record regular death of our livestock because of lack of
fodder and water to fatten them. Because of this, most people have
abandoned farming, fishing and livestock rearing because they are
no longer sustainable in this area.

Loss of the traditional means of livelihood leads to widespread
poverty and food insecurity. A
2017 report
estimated there were about 10.7 million inhabitants
of Lake Chad Region in need of humanitarian services.

 

Impact on regional stability

The shrinking of the lake contributes to regional instability in
four ways. First, some of the region’s people have taken to

criminal activities
for survival. One of the major criminal
activities in the area is cattle rustling.


Reports
have pointed to rising incidence of cattle rustling in
the region. It’s easy to move cattle over the country borders in
the area to evade arrest. Contemporary rustling has been associated
with Boko Haram who
resort to cattle rustling
as additional means of raising fund
in support of their operations. Boko Haram has become a
serious security problem
in the Lake Chad region.

Most of the response to the threat of the group has been
military. For example, from 2009 to 2018, Nigeria’s defence
budget totalled nearly $21
billion
with a substantial part going towards the fight against
Boko Haram.

Further, Boko Haram has capitalised on the loss of livelihoods
and economic woes to
recruit
people into its ranks. It either appeals to the poor
ideologically or directly uses economic incentives.

Interviews with respondents also revealed that the drying out of
the lake has intensified long-distance migration of people and
livestock to cities and towns of the basin’s countries.

The result
has been competition for resources, especially farmer-pastoralist
conflict. Between 2016 and
2019
, almost 4,000 people died in Nigeria as a result of
farmer-pastoralist conflicts.

As the lake has shrunk, the water has shifted towards Chad and
Cameroon while the Nigerian and Nigerien sides have dried up. This
forces people to cross national borders to reach the shoreline.
Respect for boundaries disappears.

A complex web of social, economic, environmental, and political
issues spills into interstate conflicts. This conflict relationship
caused by access to and management of the lake has
seriously affected
the collective effort of the region’s
states to fight Boko Haram.

 

Way ahead

The Lake Chad Basin Commission has identified the need to
replenish the water body. There was a plan to
build a dam and canals to pump water from the Congo River to the
Chari River, Central African Republic and then on to Lake Chad.

It was
first mooted
in 1982 by the Italian engineering company
Bonifica Spa, and discussed at the International Conference on Lake
Chad in Abuja in 2018. Major challenges to this plan include
funding, resistance from environmental campaigners and peaceful
conditions in which to carry it out.

Unfortunately, this scheme is yet to see the light of the day.
The commission’s member states lack the commitment required to
take action, probably due to the conflict relationship between the
other Lake Chad countries and Nigeria.

Yet if they want stability in the region, the key is to
replenish the lake.


Saheed Babajide Owonikoko
, Researcher, Centre for Peace and
Security Studies,
Modibbo Adama University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a
Creative Commons license. Read the
original article
.

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The Key to Peace in the Lake Chad Area Is Water, Not Military
Action
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The Key to Peace in the Lake Chad Area Is Water, Not
Military Action