More Water Shortages Are Looming: Lake Chad Is Drying Up

Following recent reports that the country of Yemen could experience a devastating shortage of fresh water within the next 15 years, there are new warnings about water shortages coming from Nigeria. The news is that the main source of fresh water for Nigerians, Lake Chad, may dry up within the next few years.

Lake Chad was once one of the great lakes of the world, but it is in the process of disappearing. This news should not come as a surprise, as the problem has been building for many years. In the recent past, Lake Chad covered a wide area. The town of Baga, Nigeria was a waterfront town 30 years ago. Now the town is stranded many miles from the lake as the land around it becomes desert, and the population has dropped to under 1000 inhabitants.

Satellite images don’t lie. The pictures over the last 30 years clearly show the steady decline of Lake Chad. In the past the fresh water lake appeared as a huge inland sea, larger than the country of Israel. In 1970, only 40 years ago the water of lake Chad covered 15,000 square miles. Now the latest satellite pictures put the area of the lake at just over 500 square miles. Lake Chad has lost more than 90% of its volume, and it is shrinking every year.

Global warming has been blamed by some for the loss of water, but by far the main reason for the drying up of Lake Chad is water extraction. Other factors include the damming of rivers feeding the lake for hydroelectric power generation.

Lake Chad is bordered by four countries: Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria. Four additional countries-Central African Republic, Algeria, Sudan, and Libya share the lake’s watershed and are therefore affected by its slow, steady disappearance.

The drying up of Lake Chad will leave around 30 million people without a major source of water and will deprive most of a means of livelihood. Fishing has been decimated. The large catches of catfish and other food fish have fallen by 60 percent over the past 30 years. Farmers who have relied on the water form the lake for irrigation of their fields have had to give up farming as their lands have returned to near deserts. There are concerns that the water shortages will lead not only to hunger and poverty, but also to violence as local wars break out over the diminishing amount of water that remains.

What can be done? A plan to replenish Lake Chad with water from the Oubangui River is being studied. The Obangui is a major tributary to the Congo River, and the impact on the Congo of diverting its water must be considered. However, absent such an ambitious project Lake Chad may be beyond saving. The only good news at the moment is that there is a consensus among the nations of the region that some dramatic action must be taken.

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