News

Shrinking Lake Chad Sparks Tension, Ingenuity

Lake Chad, once one of the world's biggest lakes, is shrinking fast, increasing tensions between herders, farmers, and fishermen in the four African countries that surround it. What was once 25,000 square kilometers of water in the 1960s has been reduced to just a fifth of that due to drought, deforestation, lack of government water management, and poor farming practices.

A fisherman paddles from the town of Bol to an islet within Lake Chad. The water is just a few meters deep. Speaking in Chadian Arabic, Ousmane explains it has never been worse than this. He says fish are getting smaller and smaller and fewer and fewer.

Nearby, a Nigerian immigrant who speaks Hausa, Daouda, is using handmade baskets to trap fish. He paddled from Nigeria looking for deep waters. He found none, but decided to stay here anyway. He says islands are growing in the middle of the water - good for farmers, but not for him.

It is a difficult coexistence between farmers and fishermen. Farmers divert water to irrigate their fields, further emptying out Lake Chad.

Maize farmer Aboubakar Abdou has dug deep holes on the fringes of the shrinking lake to have his own wells. He is also Nigerian and speaks Hausa. He traveled here looking for green pastures. But he says like elsewhere, where the desert is gaining fast, there is too little water.

The price of the corn he sells has gone up five-fold, because there is so little.

Herds of water buffalo known as Kouri roam nearby, some of them nipping away at Aboubakar's corn. Several years ago, there was an experiment to move some of the water buffalo away from the lake, but that failed when they all died.

Speaking in the local Kanembou language, Issa Adam says sometimes farmers attack him with machetes because his herds eat their crops, but that he fights back with his whipping stick.

The village chief, Abderaman, says fights are inevitable because of the competing interests. He says he speaks half a dozen languages, trying to act as a mediator. There are also many immigrant farmers and fishermen from the two other countries that border the lake, Niger and Cameroon. With the desert gaining, more and more nomads from the north of Chad and Libya are also passing through.

Several hundred meters away, a young woman riding a camel dismounts and tries to escape through nearby dunes. A nomad runs after her, beating her until she cries.

The village chief intervenes and finds out the woman was trying to run away from her husband. But sometimes, he says, these nomads try to steal women from his village.

Many are coming because this is actually a privileged area in a growing barren space. With the help of regional bank loans, Chad's government has spent tens of millions of dollars to irrigate nearly 20,000 hectares of land with several dams, water pumping stations, and more than 20 kilometers of cement trenches.

Speeding across spreading fields in his pick up truck, project coordinator Boissou Djerem says it will not be a reckless project like others, where water was just diverted for short-term gain. Here, he says, farmers will be able to have three harvests a year, as long as there is some water left in the lake.

The fields will be handed over to thousands of farmers in a public ceremony in April. Herders will also be given some of the land closest to water, and rules are being established so that everyone can get along.

But at their village, fishermen cleaning some of their catch of the day are furious. They explain that when these water stations first started, thousands of fish were sucked out, and stolen by smugglers at night, who then took their loot to nearby Nigeria, making fortunes by local standards. The project has also caused the disappearance of several species of birds that prey on fish.

Another more ambitious international project involves pushing some of the overflowing waters of the Oubangui River which separates the two Congos into Lake Chad.

An agro-economist for the United Nations food and agriculture agency, Aggrey Moussa Mahamat, says even though it sounds far-fetched, it is now feasible.

"It is clear that this is a big big project," he says. "We used to talk about it so many years ago. But now it is going to be a reality. Through this project water which will come from the Congo, ex-Zaire, through Central African Republic to Chad, and we can have enough water for the whole Lake Chad."

But Mr. Mahamat says money will be needed, as well as realization this is crucial to the survival of an entire region. "Big donors must be interested," he adds. "I think it will maybe be United States agencies, maybe European [Union] economies. It will be very costly to realize this project. It will be very important for agriculture, for livestock and the whole population who is living around Lake Chad."

For fishermen like Ousmane, it might be the only way that fish will not be entirely replaced by camels.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs