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African Leaders Team Up to Rescue Lake Chad


Nigeria, Niger and Chad are going ahead with plans to pump water from the Obangui River in Congo to the disappearing Lake Chad. Increasing temperatures, erratic rainfall, mismanagement and over-use are contributing to the shrinkage, and putting the lives of some 30 million inhabitants at risk. Gilbert da Costa as the story from the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

At a just-concluded summit in Abuja, the leaders of Nigeria, Chad and Niger committed themselves to a water diversion project in a bid to save Lake Chad. The first step involves an $8 million feasibility study on the transfer of water from the Obangui River, hundreds of kilometers away, to Lake Chad.

The water system of Lake Chad supports some 30 million people. Over the past 30 years, the lake has shrunk to one-tenth its original size from drought, climatic change and insufficient conservation measures.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua warned the water crisis could worsen due to population growth.

"Over the next four decades, it is projected that the present population of 30 million will increase by almost 100 percent, resulting in 30 to 50 percent more water drawn to serve the increasing population. Already, the region is water-stressed," he said. "Unless urgent action is taken, the situation could escalate to crisis proportions, further diminishing Lake Chad's capacity to be of value to those whose livelihood depends on it."

With water resources stretched thin in Lake Chad, millions who depend on it for fresh water, food and income are bracing themselves for more difficult times ahead. Concerns are also growing over the risk of violent conflict and the likelihood of political instability in an impoverished region where it rarely rains and the earth is dry and barren.

The campaign to save Lake Chad was launched 14 years ago with a plan conceived by the Lake Chad Basin Commission - a group comprising Nigeria, Niger and Chad. However, due to the magnitude of the task, very little has happened since then.

The present water transfer plan is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Most of the affected countries are extremely poor and may find it extremely difficult to fund the project.

But officials say they are optimistic African leaders are committed to saving Lake Chad. They say that should be the most compelling legacy of the Abuja meeting.