Nigerian authorities are taking steps to prevent a possible
humanitarian disaster ahead of the flooding that would result if a dike
failed in a crater lake in neighboring Cameroon. There are
new warnings that a natural barrier hemming in the lake waters is on
the brink of collapse. The Cameroon government has said there is
nothing to fear. From Doula, Cameroon, Voice of
America English to Africa Service reporter Ntaryike Divine, Jr. says
Nigerians are concerned about a new report that says the dam in Lake
Nyos may soon collapse.
The report was issued by the U.N. Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA] and the U.N. Environment
If the dam did fail, lake waters would rush downstream,
flooding several villages in Cameroon and Nigeria. Hundreds of thousands of
people would be killed, and livestock and farmlands would be destroyed.
The large lake lies high on the flank of an inactive
volcano. Its water is hemmed in by a natural dike of volcanic rock that
geologists say has weakened considerably over time. Experts at Cameroon's
Institute of Mining and Geological Research have downplayed these fears. They
acknowledge the dam has weakened but deny there’s an immediate threat of
But a U.N. team inspecting the dam three years ago said it had
sagged seriously and would not last another two decades. They said the
slightest tremor would cause it to crumble and recommended that the dam be
reinforced or some of the water be released to curb pressure on the dike. But
the Cameroon government said those measures were too expensive.
Officials in Nigeria’s Benue State are taking preemptive
measures. They’re building resettlement camps with a $500,000 allotment from the Federal Government.
At least 11 settlements in the state have been identified as
high-risk zones. The governor, Gabriel Tor-Suswan, has urged the Nigerian
National Assembly to authorize the purchase of relief equipment, including
He told the Nigerian Daily
Trust newspaper the U.N. report recommended the Federal Government spend $15
million over the next two years to prepare for the humanitarian help
that might be necessary. The Benue
State Executive Council has ruled that the threat is real.
Lake Nyos hit the headlines in August 1986 when it suddenly
emitted large clouds of carbon dioxide. The gas killed 1,700 people and 3,500
livestock in surrounding villages in Cameroon. Scientists rushed to the area to
study the event. They said it was the first-known large-scale asphyxiation
brought about by natural causes. They suspected that pockets of magma - molton
rock beneath the earth’s surface - lying
beneath the lake leaked carbon dioxide into the water, causing it to change
into toxic carbonic oxide.
To prevent a repeat, American scientists installed a
degassing tube in the lake in 2001. It regularly siphons water saturated with
carbon dioxide, taking the gas from the lake bottom to the surface and
releasing it gradually in safe quantities. The same process is used at another
Cameroonian lake at Mounoun. Experts say more tubes are needed. The government
hopes relief and humanitarian groups will help.
Meanwhile, Cameroon continues its preparations for the
current threat from Lake Nyos – the possible failure of the dam.