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  • Yazarın fotoğrafıMoussa Hissein Moussa

Lake Chad: A Source of Life Threatened with Extinction

Introduction

Lake Chad is classified as the fourth largest water area on the African continent and the third largest enclosed lake in the world. It is fed mainly by the Logon River (located between Cameroon and Chad), itself a tributary of the Shari River (which spans the borders of the Central African Republic, Chad, Cameroon and Sudan), but also by the Komadugu-Yobe River (shared between Niger and Nigeria) and three rivers draining the Borno region of Nigeria. Lake Chad, formerly one of the largest lakes in Africa, is currently facing a major crisis. Situated on the borders of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, the lake is a vital resource for some 40 million people, with its basin stretching as far as Algeria, Libya and Sudan.



A tree of life in the heart of Africa

The Lake Chad basin forms a huge reserve, not only for people, but also for vegetation and birds. It is a crossroads of biodiversity in all its splendor. The ecological richness of the Lake Chad region is due to its belonging to three different ecological zones: The flooded savanna of Lake Chad, the Coastal Acacia savanna and the western Sudan savanna.


Fishing

Fishing is the most visible activity in the lake and is mainly carried out by local fishermen using traditional dinghies. It is a source of income that contributes to poverty alleviation and generates a large number of jobs through fishing and fish processing. The income generated is important for local communities. Fish from Lake Chad are marketed in all riparian countries and play an important role in the food security of the region's lakeside and urban populations.


Fishing also serves as a tool for social cohesion. Mass fishing takes place for several days during the warm season (March-May) and fishing demonstrations are sometimes associated with events such as weddings and religious festivals. According to fishermen, silence is very important during fishing, as spirits dislike noise and believe that it scares away the fish.


Spirulina Flower

Women are involved in the harvesting of spirulina, an edible algae rich in minerals and proteins that is steadily growing in popularity for its detoxifying and nutritional properties that have gained worldwide fame.


This algae is commonly collected in the Kanem and Lake Chad regions, where it thrives in the watersheds of the oases surrounding the lake. The harvesting process involves taking water from the ponds with iron containers, pouring this water into a spherical tank that is buried in the sand. This tank filters the water, releases the algal sediments and is left to dry in the sun in the form of breadsticks about 2 cm in diameter. The breadsticks are then cut into pieces, the sand is removed and then sold on the local market or exported to neighboring countries.


Spirulina, as a plant product, has a protein content of 60 to 70% in dry matter. For comparison, 15 g of spirulina contains as much protein as 100 g of beef, which makes it a very interesting food in the fight against malnutrition.



Biodiversity

Lake Chad, one of the three major hydrological systems in the coastal region, is home to the largest population of birds. It is an important area for migratory birds from Europe and Asia, including at least 70 species each year, including Afrotropical species. In addition, the Lake Chad basin is home to all the vulture species of West Africa.


There are at least 44 species of large and medium-sized mammals in the Lake Chad region, including a population of elephants. Elephants play a central role as architects of landscapes, contributing to the spread of plant species and helping to sustain ecosystems. The Lake Chad region is home to four species of large and medium-sized mammals, including the African savanna elephant and the water hippopotamus, as well as four threatened species and three endangered species.


The climate of the region results in low savanna vegetation concentrated along the islands and lake shores. The dominant tree species on the islands include prosopis and date palm. Often considered an invasive species, prosopis is used by pastoralists and serves as an important source of income through the charcoal, service wood and coal trade.



A possible extinction threatening millions of people

Over the last six decades, the size of the lake has decreased at an alarming rate, mainly due to excessive water use, prolonged periods of drought and the effects of climate change. From 26,000 square kilometers in 1963, the lake's area has shrunk to less than 1,500 square kilometers today. This has been characterized as an ecological disaster, leading to the destruction of ecosystems and the loss of invaluable biodiversity.


The impact of climate change in the region is particularly evident in the drying up of Lake Chad. During the Paleolithic period, the lake covered an area of about 315,000 km² and reached depths of up to 160 meters. Currently, however, it is considered one of the most threatened among natural assets, having shrunk significantly over the last five decades.


Periods of drought on the Coast in the 1970s-1980s marked the beginning of the lake's shrinkage, but beyond climatic conditions, there are other factors that reinforce Lake Chad's vulnerability. These factors include the response of farming communities to extreme climatic events, drought, sandblasting of soils and soil erosion, which have devastating consequences, jeopardizing the development of poor communities.



The consequences of climate change are also being felt in economic and environmental terms. On the environmental front, in addition to the decline of Lake Chad, forests are degraded, soil and water tables are increasingly salinized, sandblasting is increasing, and agricultural land is decreasing and its productivity is declining.



Between 120 and 140 fish species have been identified in Lake Chad and its tributaries, with seafood potential estimated at 150,000 tons. However, overfishing resulting from increasingly smaller nets threatens many species by preventing the reproduction of populations.


In economic terms, seafood production has fallen by 60% due to the decline of Lake Chad, while the degradation of soils and grasslands has led to a decline in regional agricultural production capacities, a reduction in feed availability and a decline in livestock and biodiversity. In the face of Lake Chad's decline and worsening agro-climatic conditions, local populations have developed strategies to ensure their food security, including migration to the coast and islands, especially after the recession of Lake Chad.


Conclusion

In summary, the impending drying up of Lake Chad is of serious concern both nationally and internationally. There is an urgent need to study the recommendations of experts and take action to save this critical resource. The recommendations presented in this document offer ways that can help the member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (CBLT) deal with the challenges related to the disappearance of the lake and demographic pressure from a sustainable development perspective. The economic returns associated with the exploitation of Lake Chad are significant and can improve the well-being of regional populations. It is also imperative to make an in-depth study of how climate changes, especially long-term threats to the changes, can have serious consequences for poor countries. Failure to control this phenomenon could lead to significant migrations due to droughts, floods and food shortages, as well as increased demographic pressure on already limited resources in recipient regions, and conflict. Thus, climate change-induced migrations suggest a failure in adaptation to climate change, which, while adapting to environmental degradation, also poses a significant security risk.


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