AFRICA: Drying, Drying, Disappearing …

Published on IPS, by Paul Virgo, December 26, 2009.

ROME, Dec 26 (IPS) – Lake Chad was bigger than Israel less than 50 years ago. Today its surface area is less than a tenth of its earlier size, amid forecasts the lake could disappear altogether within 20 years … //

… It is a grim situation, but not a hopeless one. The other half of the problem, over-extraction, can be tackled locally.

“We are optimistic,” says Ganduje. “We are regulating the use of Lake Chad water. We are drawing up a charter so everyone has common rules and regulations in the use of water.  

“We are also controlling activities on the tributaries to Lake Chad, such as the construction of dams and irrigation activities. We are controlling human behaviour in response to other factors that are outside of our control.”

This confidence is justified in part by growing understanding of the need for a response.

“There is recognition of the need for new management strategies to be put into place,” says Salman. “The most common conclusion of studies on the lake’s shrinkage is that it is due to both human pressure on water resources and on climate change. A solution should be possible.

“There needs to be optimum use of the waters in each sector, up-scaling water conservation and small-scale agricultural technologies for more efficient irrigation. Awareness about use of the waters is important as well, so people cut down.”

The LCBC also has high hopes of an ambitious plan to replenish the lake to its 1960s levels by diverting water from the Oubangui River, which is the major tributary to the Congo River.

“The feasibility study has started and a fund has been set up,” says Ganduje. “The heads of state are confident of progress. If the feasibility study is positive, we believe we have the political support required.”

The FAO says it does not have a position on whether the transfer project should go ahead, although it has called for very careful consideration of its impact, including that on the Congo River system. What it views as key is the presentation of concrete plans to save the lake, so donors can be badgered into committing to a cause that is crucial to millions of people .

“There is a strategic action plan for the sustainable development of Lake Chad, but to translate that into action we need an investment plan,” says Salman. “We need more meetings of donors to get them to commit and make good those commitments through investment. The good news is that there is a consensus on the need for action.” END/2009. (full text).

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