SEATTLE — Severe drought has depleted the waters of Lake Chad for decades — and as the lake recedes, so does the hope of the 30 million people that populate its basin.
Years of unsustainable agriculture, climate change and lacking waterworks have reduced the surface area of Lake Chad to a mere twentieth of its original size, opening up a vacuum in which disease and malnutrition have taken hold.
To make matters worse, Lake Chad shares its western edge with the northernmost corner of the Nigerian Borno state, where the violent activities of the terrorist group Boko Haram are jeopardizing the lives of nearly half a million children. The amount of Nigerian refugees living in Chad currently amounts to 26,000.
The conflict has also resulted in the internal displacement of 52,300 Chadians, most of whom have taken up residence in camps around Lake Chad and find themselves without adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) conditions.
As the violence’s radius expands and its afterlife extends, options for recourse from the intensifying water crisis grow slim. Below are three strategies that will be crucial to keeping the residents of the Lake Chad Basin hydrated and improving water quality in Chad.
1. On the Ground, Short Term Water Relief
Since October 2015, USAID has been dispatching reports on the agency’s response to the Lake Chad Basin crisis. In November, one estimated that 83,000 children were without access to safe drinking water. The latest, released on August 31, revealed that 75 percent of Borno’s water and sanitation facilities are in dire need of rehabilitation.
The reports also detail measures taken by organizations on the ground to erect some semblance of water infrastructure in the face of continual devastation. USAID partners, for example, have held hygiene promotion sessions and engaged in latrine restoration projects.
Designated community water points are being constructed, in addition to water catchment sites that accommodate small-scale gardening initiatives. Another NGO, responding specifically to the threat of waterborne disease, orchestrated a community cleanup of solid waste, bringing together nearly 1,000 volunteers to build waste management sites in numerous villages.
2. Trans-Boundary Cooperation and Management
Trans-boundary water systems are almost inherently vulnerable to extraneous conflict, and Lake Chad is no exception. Although intergovernmental organizations like the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) exist to regulate and mediate regional water use and drainage, their functionality is impeded by an absence of political will.
Jonathan Kamkwalala, the World Bank Manager for Water Resources and Disaster Risk Management, has worked extensively with authorities in the Lake Chad region. In an interview with the World Bank’s news division, he duly acknowledged the fragmentary mismanagement that besets large trans-boundary water systems like Lake Chad’s.
However, Kamkwalala was quick to point out the flip side of the coin — that is, the opportunity provided by communally owned waters for “building relationships within countries and across borders that can lead to cooperation and understanding.”
That said, unraveling the complexities that currently prevent the establishment of an effective trans-boundary water system in Lake Chad, Kamkwalala said, will require a “variety of stakeholders to cooperate on solutions,” including ministers and organizations that operate on national and regional levels.
3. Long Term Planning and Adaptation
Many ecosystems — including the Lake Chad Basin — have suffered from short-sighted and environmentally hazardous farming practices. The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) holds overgrazing and unsustainable irrigation projects culpable for Lake Chad’s ongoing disappearing act.
If water quality in Chad is to have any chance at a future, advanced management strategies must be created that have the future in mind.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO) held a seminar in 2009 on adaptive water management in the Lake Chad Basin. Its conclusions stressed the importance of consolidating a regional database of case studies and data relevant to future capacity building, as well as the establishment of a participatory political agenda that holds African leaders accountable to their promises of intervention.
In the Lake Chad Basin, only the unrelenting deployment of small scale and large scale strategies can combat the immediacy of terror and malnutrition while pioneering a sustainable future for water quality in Chad. If one goes forward without the other, the region will continue to capitulate to instability and uncertainty.
– Josephine Gurch