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Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2007, 10:03 GMT
Lake Chad fishermen pack up their nets
Fishermen on Lake Chad

By Senan Murray
BBC News website, Lake Chad

Muhammadu Bello and his nine children used to depend on Lake Chad for their livelihoods.

But the former fisherman became a farmer as the waters vanished eastwards from the shores of his village in north-east Nigeria.

Experts are warning that the lake, which was once Africa's third largest inland water body, could shrink to a mere pond in two decades.

A recent study by Nasa and the German Aerospace Centre blames global warming and human activity for Africa's disappearing water.


"Africa is being cheated again by the industrialised West," says Jacob Nyanganji of Nigeria's University of Maiduguri.

Farmer Muhammadu Bello
This lake is dying and we are all dying with it
Muhammadu Bello
"Africa does not produce any significant amount of greenhouse gases, but it's our lakes and rivers that are drying up. America has refused to ratify Kyoto and it is our lakes that are drying up."

Villagers in Nigeria's semi-arid border region with Chad, Niger and Cameroon understand full well the consequences of what is happening.

"I don't know what global warming is, but what I do know is that this lake is dying and we are all dying with it," says Mr Bello.

"Some 27 years ago when I started fishing on the lake, we used to catch fish as large as a man.

"But now this is all the fishermen bring in after a whole night of fishing," he says pointing at tiny catfish piled on the ground in Doron Baga's once-famous fish market.

His family now farm on rich, dark loamy soil that was once part of the lake - growing onions, peppers, tomatoes and maize.

There are constant arguments over territory between fishermen
Fisherman Muhammad Sanusi

"This entire area used to be covered with water when I first came here," Mr Bello says with a sweep of his hand as we left the village by car heading towards the lake - a journey which took three hours along a bumpy dusty trail.

As recently as 1966, Lake Chad, which sits between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, was a huge expanse of water that the locals fondly referred to as an "ocean".

The Central African Republic's Logone and Chari rivers empty into the lake. But reduced rainfall and damming of the rivers means that only half of the water now gets to the lake.

The Komadougou-Yobe River in far north-eastern Nigeria which also feeds the lake now flows only during the rainy season.


"I tell you even animals and birds have been dying around here. There are fewer of them now," says Musa Niger, a fisherman in Duguri, an island village in the middle of the lake.

Vanishing Lake Chad

Another Duguri resident, Umaru Mustapha cuts in. He used to earn $100 a day, but now earns about $6.

"Some of our colleagues are tired of this difficult life and have turned to farming," he says.

"I cannot do this as there are hardly any rains these days and for dry season farming you have to depend on the lake water which is too much hassle," he says.

At the lake bank, workers offload heavy parcels of smoked catfish from locally made boats fitted with outboard engines.

The fish is brought in from the Chadian side of the lake where most of the water is to be found.

Nigerian fishermen who have chased the receding lake to Chadian and Cameroonian territories complain of harassment by tax officials and occasional clashes with locals.

Fish the size of a man were once caught on the lake
"There are constant arguments over territory between fishermen," says Muhammad Sanusi, a fisherman in Dogon Fili, another village which sprang up in the middle of the drying lake less than 15 years ago.

"It's difficult to determine boundaries on water, yet the gendarmes [from Cameroon and Chad] always come after us and seize our fishing nets and traps and we have to pay heavily to get them back."

He says the arguments often lead to violence among the 30m-strong shoreline communities who are competing for access to water and pasture and some villagers now opt to seek employment in Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria's north-eastern Borno State.

'Global heritage'

For the politicians, there is no arguing with the figures: 40 years ago, the lake was 25,000 sq km and the daily fish catch was some 230,000 tonnes; now it is 500 sq km with a catch of barely 50,000 tonnes.

The Sahara Desert in the north is speeding towards the lake.

"Lake Chad is a global heritage and now a disaster waiting to happen," speaker of Nigeria's House of Representatives said at a recent meeting to discuss ways to save the disappearing lake.

Fisherman carrying firewood
Selling firewood is an alternative income for struggling fishermen

Aminu Bello Masari told the meeting that "already pastoralists have been forced out of the lake to move their herds to the wetter south which has already caused conflicts between herders and farmers".

A plan to channel water from Oubangi River in the Central African Republic to Lake Chad is yet to begin due to lack of funding.

A feasibility study is still being discussed, after which the countries involved hope to approach international donors for funding.

But as livelihoods are destroyed and the desert heads ever southwards, time is of the essence for the planners.

Is climate change affecting you in Africa?

Oh yes, I have seen it all with my own eyes, the rainfall is less, and all the rivers I swam in when young are all gone. The lake that I used to see and admire after every sunrise, Lake Ol Bollosat, near Nyahururu (in Kenya), has shrank. In my village, no more virgin land remains while farmers hungry for land have cleared land up to the river bed. As all this happens the population continue too rise as policies makers turn their attentions to grandiose projects like constitution which will not succeed if the mouths are hungry and people are hopeless. It is time Africa stopped living for today.
X N Iraki, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA

I am an archaeologist whom works in Niger and has studied climate change and how it affects people in the desert for the last 10,000 years. I just wanted to make some comments on this article. OK Climate change.... no where in the article did you specifically state where the climate has changed or showed a graph of how temperatures have changed, if you did you would find that its been pretty constant for the last 3500 years...ARID AND HOT. I am not disputing the fact that lake Chad is disappearing at an alarming rate due in part to natural climatic effects, however I feel it is necessary for the article to highlight more of the direct reasons for lake Chad¿s depletion...local human involvement and lack of government cohesion. Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon have all been exploiting the water source by unsustainable means, and cutting off the waters supply. It is naturally running low due to the Climate yes, but its exponentially effected by the people and governments whom can't work together to save it. That¿s all I have to say really, thanks for your time. Sincerely, Jeff Stivers
Jeff Stivers, seattle, WASHINGTON

The quote by Jacob Nyanganjiof Nigeria's University of Maiduguri contains a factual error. Jacob Nyanganji claims that "Africa does not produce any significant amount of greenhouse gases". This is correct for sub-saharan countries such as Chad however Nigeria alone produces around 15% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions due to its unnecessary flaring of gas from its petroleum industry. This is a problem which is remarkably solvable if there was the real political will to do so.
Mark, London, UK

Yes ,climate is affecting us very much even our own lake victoria is shrinking at rocket speeds.
Samuel Irungu, Uganda

When I was in Tanzania a couple of years ago, we were climbing Kilimanjaro, and the guide we were with said that in less than forty years, the snow at the peak would all be gone because of global warming. I think if you want a striking visual effect, that would be it - over 5000 metres up, a once permanently snow-covered peak, just barren rock.
Karl Brown, Norwich, UK

I bet the stakeholders (Nigeria,Chad and Cameroon) are all waiting on Western donors, to save the Lake. African leaders have to realise that like the shrinking Lake Chad, Western donors would begin to dry out sooner than later. Hear Africa and heed!
Ame Osawe, Toronto, Canada

I lived in Chad for several years. This article makes them sound like noble stewards of the land. This is not true. Lake Chad is drying up (and has been since I lived there almost 20 years ago) because the water is being diverted to irrigate crops in the arid desert, as well as feed the growing cities in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Libya. This has everything to do with them using too much water in the middle of the Sahel and nothing to do with the West somehow creating an environmental catastrophe.
Bob, Bicester, UK

I think global warming is definitely affecting the whole planet. However, did I misunderstand the statement in the article that the rivers that used to feed the lake have been dammed and that only half the water reaches the lake now? Renegotiating the water amounts passing through these dams seems an obvious first step to refilling the lake. Who gets the dammed water now? Look to that.
Tamara Kay, New Mexico, USA

Climate change in its self is not a problem, for Zimbabwe, it has always occurred and people have adopted. What is worrisome is the pace and magnitude at which climate change is taking place, which is preventing adaptation to the changing environment. for example if one cuts an indigenous tree like a Mopane tree, replacing that tree by planting a similar tree now almost impossible under natural conditions due to changes in climate. It is unlikely that Zimbabwe, poor as we are can afford the technology that is needed to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
david chikodzi, victoria falls, zimbabwe

The euthrophication of Lake Chad is not due to Global Warming or non ratification of the Kyoto protocol by America and such remarks are misleading, The truth is that Lake chad has been deprived off water for two reasons, First and more imprtant is the river capture of the head waters of River Kamadougou Yobe by the River Benue which has considerably reduced the amount of water being received by Lake Chad. Secondly increased (not very efficient) irrigation due to increasing population and the southward march of the Sahara has increased the rate of leakage from the lake Chad water basin.
MATTHEW COKER, Lagos Nigeria

During the summer of 2005 I spent extensive time in Uganda. I was often in a small village called Nakyessa, in central Uganda. Nobody there had heard about global warming and I wasn't about to explain it. Instead, I asked an elderly local man to tell me about the weather where he lived. He said that years ago rains came and went with consistency, that everything was fertile. "Now," he said, "there is not much rain at all. It will be dry during the rainy season and sometimes sprinkle during the dry season." For this man who had never heard of global warming, his comments summed it up.
Brian Kaufman, South Florida, USA - Regarding Nakyessa, Uganda


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