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Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 10:38 GMT
Averting disaster in Cameroon
Lake Nyos 10 days after the eruption
Lake Nyos erupted in 1986 killing 1,700 people
By Omer Songwe in Bamenda

A team of French and Japanese scientists have arrived in Cameroon to try to end the risk posed by toxic gases escaping from a lake in the north-west of the country.

On 21 August, 1986, Lake Nyos exploded, spewing out carbon dioxide that killed more than 1,700 people and their livestock.

Since then, scientists studying the lake, which lies about 600km (375 miles) from the capital, Yaounde, have sought to rid it of the lethal gas that accumulates in its depths before it erupts again.

After initial studies in 1990, plans to de-gas the lake were fraught with discord, and then a lack of funding brought the project to a halt.

Rising gases

But things finally seem to be happening again.

According to some reports, the lake now contains twice as much carbon dioxide as was released during the explosion.


The gas clouds reached upto 26km away
The present exercise is considered crucial because most of the survivors, disgruntled with the life they were living in government resettlement camps, have gone back to the area - which is extremely fertile.

Most people I spoke to were sceptical about the government's intention to do anything effective.

One young man from Cha, one of the villages hit by the 1986 explosion, told me that the government had promised before that scientists were making the lake safe and nothing had actually happened.

De-gassing

According to scientists, the de-gassing procedure is technologically straightforward.

Trial on Lake Nyos in 1995
Test degassing suggests it will work
It entails lowering a pipe to the bottom of the lake to release the gas.

Tests have been carried out on Nyos and on Lake Monoun, that also spewed out deadly gas just months before the Lake Nyos explosion.

However, critics and observers say they will only believe the lake is safe when survivors are allowed to return to their villages.

Meanwhile, government officials in the province say that the degassing of the lake should finally quell rumours that have persisted in Cameroon that the explosion could have been a neutron bomb test carried out by Israelis and Americans.

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See also:

07 Jun 00 | Africa
Volcano alert in Cameroon
28 Oct 99 | Africa
Cameroon's killer lakes tackled
01 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
New fix for carbon emissions
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