Lake Chad: From rhetoric to action

FILE PHOTO: Men on camels cross the water as a woman washes clothes in Lake Chad in Ngouboua, January 19, 2015. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun/File Photo

President Muhammadu Buhari’s demand the other day on Europe and America to help recharge Lake Chad is curious and uncalled.

The nation should be tired of this request on the West for this technical and financial assistance, which had been made at different forums.

The international community is aware of the plight of Lake Chad and may be waiting on the sub-region to take the lead.

Let it not be said that there is more talk than action on the matter of salvaging the drying Lake Chad.

President Buhari had touched on this again while receiving the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, at the State House in Abuja, when he called on Europe and America to help recharge Lake Chad.

He said the greatest investment Europe and the United States could make in Africa at the moment was to help in accomplishing the inter-basin water transfer to re-charge Lake Chad.

While recalling how the lake once served as source of livelihood for millions of West African citizens in the past, the president listed the countries that benefitted immensely from the lake in its productive years as Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria.

These countries, incidentally, constitute the core of the Lake Chad Basin Commission that has management responsibility the Lake. These countries must spearhead whatever need to be done to revamp the lake.

It is not surprising that President Buhari has been championing the cause of the Lake including seeking for funding to implement proposals.

The critical importance of the Lake to the ecosystem and livelihood of millions of dependent population cannot be over-emphasised. But there must be some decorum about this.

Attracting help, as it were, will depend on how far the challenge has been tackled by the sub-regional stakeholders under the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC).

There is no need putting the same demand on the same issue, every now and then, without any concrete action being initiated. That would reduce the matter to mere rhetoric. Where are the actionable plans?

What the Lake requires is concrete remedial action, which Nigeria and her neighbours should initiate. It is only then that the international community would be keen to assist.

But that does not overlook the prevailing hostilities around the Lake. The concerned countries and their partners should do more action and less talk as time is of essence.

The more action is delayed the more the Lake dries up and the more exorbitant the project cost becomes.

There has been too much talk about reviving Lake Chad. Many workshops. Seminars and other talk shops have been held. But there has been no action to touch the heart of helpers.

Funding has remained a major factor hampering project implementation, which explains why President Buhari, at any given opportunity, puts up the issue of funding to possible donors.

The Lake Chad Basin Commission countries have been unable to move the project forward due to financial constraints they have done nothing about in their budgetary allocations.

The other day, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) was reported to be considering the report of an international conference on Lake Chad held earlier this year, which proposed $14.5 billion for the rescue of the Lake from extinction. That was the latest in a series of propositions being tabled for the project without concrete action yet.

Earlier in 2017, donors at an UN-backed conference on Lake Chad in Oslo pledged $670 million mainly to support aid operations in the region. The UN’s involvement indicated global interest on the Lake.

The last conference, which was attended by President Muhammadu Buhari, along with Gabonese and Angolan presidents, reverted to the original plan of inter-basin water transfer from the River Ubangi, the largest tributary of the River Congo running through the border of Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo at a huge cost.

This option, which resulted from detailed feasibility studies, has remained on the drawing board for too long presumably due to lack of funds. But whatever alternative solution might be put forward would require funding.

Little wonder then that the Federal Government has not relented in seeking cheaper options to recharge the Lake.

Government should remember that the Lake is situated in a drought-prone arid environment. Water is the critical element that is needed.

This newspaper has repeatedly noted that underground water aquifers within the basin area should be explored before any other strategy.

The water could be sourced from the surface like the Congo River or underground from aquifers. There is no easy way out. Scientific information is needed to solve the problem.

Getting to the aquifer is necessary. That would require geophysical investigation. Seeking to get to the aquifer deep below is not rocket science.

Striking water at the subterranean aquifer might serve as a cheap solution to recharge the Lake. Action should be initiated, in this regard too.

Needless to say that no effective action could be taken on the Lake amid the Boko Haram insurgency in the region.

Effort should be geared towards ending the crisis for peace to return to the area before anything could be done.

The crisis in the Lake Chad basin, including Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, has festered over the last six years.

Insecurity, violence by Boko Haram and counter-insurgency measures have uprooted over 2.4 million people, making it the fastest growing displacement crisis in Africa.

The upsurge in Boko Haram activities and the abject state of Lake Chad, which is the livewire of millions of people, demands urgent assistance.

Enormous money is needed to implement the critical project. Certainly, the vanishing of the Lake is part of the collateral damage of the Boko Haram conflict.

There is no doubt that we need the Lake Chad for peace in the area.

Getting the Lake back to its normal condition could be part of the solution to the conflict in the area. But that can’t be found when there is no official migration from rhetoric to action in the area.

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