Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
Reports that the Federal Government plans to recharge the Lake Chad underscores the renewed effort at the national level to address the grave concerns posed by the diminishing water level. There is worry and anxiety over the possibility of the Lake drying up with adverse consequences for the people and the ecosystem. Lake Chad is indeed critical for the sustenance of social and economic activities in the sub-region and the United Nations’ reported initiative for an inventory of the humanitarian crisis facing the riparian communities around the Lake is a positive development that complements the government’s effort. These efforts are commendable and should be supported by the international community.
The UN’s involvement at this stage is indicative of global interest that is desirable. President Muhammadu Buhari had at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France, made an urgent appeal to the G7 countries and the United States for $14 billion to revive the Lake and save the dependent populations. Not surprisingly, government is taking steps to recharge the Lake. Government has reportedly conducted feasibility study and intends to recharge the Lake through an inter-basin water transfer from the Congo basin.
The inter-basin water transfer option has been a long-standing proposal but could not be implemented, apparently, due to lack of funding. The project would involve transferring water from the Oubangui River in Central African Republic (CAR), through a navigable canal of about 150 kilometres to Lake Chad. That, probably, is much more feasible than exploring subterranean aquifer.
Conceived since 2002 in Yaounde, Cameroun by the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) countries, the goal is to restore the Lake’s water and ecosystem to appreciable level. Nevertheless, controversy had trailed the proposal over the environmental impact. But it is hoped that the new initiative had taken into consideration the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) issue. The project is envisioned to transform the sub-region into a more stable economic hub in the post-Boko Haram era.
According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, who disclosed the government’s plan at the just-concluded second Regional Security Summit in Abuja, the cost is a rough estimate and the project would be executed under a public-private partnership (PPP) framework. He noted that recharging Lake Chad is an expensive venture, hence, the resort to the PPP mechanism for financiers. The Executive Secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) also said the project is part of the grand post-conflict rebuilding effort in the region. It is time, according to him, to embark on aggressive development projects to facilitate the rebuilding of the areas affected by Boko Haram insurgency.
Prior to the activities of Boko Haram, discussions had reached advanced stage with respect to recharging the Lake before the attention of the sub-regional leaders was shifted to fighting the terror war. No doubt, the conflict has marred local and international efforts to salvage Lake Chad.
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, the other day, visited Niger and Nigeria, to meet with displaced people, their host communities, local officials and humanitarian actors in the Lake Chad Basin.
O’Brien’s visit is ahead of the First World Humanitarian Summit, holding in Istanbul, Turkey, this month, which seeks to generate renewed focus on essential humanitarian commitments, including the need to “prevent and end conflict.” The long-term development of the Lake Chad Region has been recognised as crucial to reducing the high poverty rate in the basin, which is a major factor in the recruitment of terrorists.
As the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator rightly observed, “The crisis in the Lake Chad basin, including Niger, Nigeria, Cameroun and Chad, has continuously deteriorated over the last two years. Insecurity, violence by Boko Haram and counter-insurgency measures have uprooted over 2.4 million people, making it the fastest growing displacement crisis in Africa.” The upsurge in Boko Haram activities and the abject state of Lake Chad, which is the livewire of millions of people, therefore, demand urgent assistance. Enormous money which can only be put together by a concert of all is needed to implement the critical project.
Certainly, the vanishing of the Lake is part of the collateral damage of the Boko Haram conflict and there is no doubt that Lake Chad is needed for peace in the area.
This is the time for those seeking peace in the sub-region, therefore, to get involved. More donors are needed to boost the budget. It is encouraging that a number of initiatives are being put forward. Nigeria should spearhead the efforts and ensure they succeed in the interest of the sub-region.