Nigeria’s northeast exemplifies a typical extreme case of the country’s version of climate change, reveling in ecological imbalance and accompanied with devastating consequences. It is evident that the northeast grapples with an unprecedented number of “climate induced migrations” courtesy of the multifaceted climate change and its palpable effects; ranging from desertification, drought, flooding and, quite disturbing, the near disappearance of the Lake Chad basin – which all put the region in a dire strait.
The utmost source of apprehension is the impending disappearance of Lake Chad, the multipurpose lake and economic backbone of the region used to be characterised with fertile shores for farming, a natural habitat for fishing, a medium for moving freight across the adjacent countries and which constitutes the core source of irrigation in the region – is now shadow of itself and threading the catastrophic path of oblivion.
Russell Bishop, Senior Research Fellow, Overseas Development Institute, said: “Between 1963 and 2013, the lake lost 90 percent of its water mass, shrinking from 25,000km2 to 2,500km2”.
In the same vein, more than 30 million lives depend on the lake. And the lake, which was once one of the biggest bodies of water in the world, could disappear entirely by 2030, says the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
As the region grieves the ripple effects of the shrinking lake, drought takes hold of the region – further worsened by desert encroachment which is fast depleting the arable lands and turning them to sand dunes. The livelihoods of the inhabitants in the region which revolve around farming, cattle rearing and fishing are facing existential threats owing to the devastated ecosystems. Suffice to say that the annual outputs of wheat, millet, corn, peanuts, rice, sorghum, tubers among others which are peculiar to the region are first time in history at the lowest ebb.
While the once lively and economically endowed fish market in Baga, Maiduguri remains desolate, attention has shifted to Darak, an affluent fishing settlement lying within Cameroonian territory. All these trigger downward spiral of Nigeria’s GDP. Not surprising, the combined effects of the unfortunate incidences have dwindled economic fortunes and even impaired economic activities of the region bringing it to a halt – thereby forcing exodus of farmers, fishermen and pastoralists to turn to environmental migrants in their quest for greener pastures.
It is now a thriving place for illicit arms and Boko Haram terrorism. Boko Haram terrorists readily gain recruits within the region owing to unemployment precipitated by climate change. It is sympathetic seeing many inhabitants of Nigeria’s northeast losing their families, reeling in poverty, abandoning their properties and fleeing their homes in endlessly seeking fortress in the nearby villages and the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
According to Adams Smith International, about two million people were displaced in northern Nigeria as at 2016. Abandonment of properties and displacement profile which keep rising daily are clear indications that “climate migration” is a ticking bomb that urgently need attention.
How it all started
In their research, Coe and Foley of the University of Wisconsin, Madison stated: “Irrigation demands increased four-fold between 1983 and 1994, accounting for 50 percent of the additional decrease in the size of the lake.” Based on the data and the reality of population increase in the region, need do I say that the percentage attributed to irrigation demands increased.
Reduction in the Lake size is attributed to many cogent factors by researchers and environmentalists – the factors comprise physical and evolving climate factors. Part of the factors are: pressure on the lake culminating water diversion, irrigation, over fishing and damming; further compounded with less rainfall which induces drought. All these have facilitated and exacerbated perpetual shrinkage of the Lake Chad basin. As a result, it won’t be out of place to note that the key known tributaries of Lake Chad – which are river Chari and Logone have drastically reduced in sizes and capacities; thereby, making natural replenishment a difficult reality.
Foley said, “The problem is expected to worsen in the coming years as population and irrigation demands continue to increase.”
Such is the precarious situation of the region and the problem in the offing. Some climatologists opine that there is high tendency for the shrinkage to not have occurred had it been the lake was not over stretched by the growing population. The earnest competition for the available scarce resources by the teeming population birthed restiveness, terrorism and territorial clashes.
Efforts so far and long-term solutions
Towards addressing the problem of the drying lake among myriads of other climate problems, Nigeria is a member of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), an intergovernmental organisation that coordinates water usage in the region. And Nigerian government actively participated in the 2015 Paris Climate agreement where an ambitious and feasible Climate Action plan was submitted to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In the universal legally binding agreement, Nigerian government was committed to cutting carbon emissions by 40%, and, most importantly, resuscitation of the shrinking Lake Chad Basin.
In that regard, Nigeria has contributed about $5 million out of about $15 million required to carry out comprehensive and holistic feasibility study on recharging the lake, thereby leading to a forecast that about $15 billion to $20 billion would be required to recharge the lake.
Conflicting speculations emerged of a recent that the lake would be recharged from the Congo River to the River Chari; which discharges into Lake Chad. While Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said the lake recharging would possibly be from the Rangin River – located in Central Africa. However, what is certain is the assiduous commitment to recharge the lake from the nearby rivers – with quantifiable capacities.
Sadly, due to paucity of funds in raising about $20 billion within the members of LCBC, the lake recharging project slated to begin in 2017 is currently crawling and dispels hope of any tangible achievement as the year is about to end – since no significant recharging work is ongoing.
Also, Nigeria championed formulation of Great Green Wall Project geared towards creating green shelter belt (about 10,000 km long from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east and 15 km in width) in combating drought and resisting the vast encroachment of Sahara desert into Sahel and Sudan climate regions. The motive behind this commendable initiative is the set target of turning the Sahara and the Sahel regions to agricultural hubs by 2050.
No doubt, the gigantic Great Green Wall project will neutralise ecological imbalances, provide job and food for the teeming population in the Northeast thereby, easing pressure on the Lake Chad basin — if implemented.
According to The Guardian, National Agency for Great Green Wall (NAGGW) is embarking on planting of 1.6 million assorted seedlings to cover 129.3 kilometres of the shelterbelt in seven Nigerian Northern states. And out of N1.05 billion approved to carry out this ambitious project in 2017 budget allocation, only N200 million was released to NAGGW. Currently, the project is as well at a standstill.
Barack Obama once affirmed how the drying Lake Chad is a major factor in the migration of Africans to the west and laid premium emphasis on the urgent need to revive the lake towards forestalling exacerbation of climate migration in Africa.
Concerned climate justice advocates wonder why these ambitious projects promising of bringing succour to the region could be crawling. The scenario portrays good policy crafting but poor attitudinal disposition towards implementation of plans by Nigerian government. It won’t be out place to infer that Nigeria indeed has good intentions engraved on paper in combating the multifaceted climate challenges but there is a wide apprehension that the projects are dead on arrival. As it becomes evident that the government mulls over the ambitious projects and exhibits lack of political will in bringing them to reality.
It is quite sadden that nobody could envisage how long or how soon the climate challenges in the region will end. The helpless and vulnerable populations in the Northeast Nigeria are left to bask in the untoward consequences of climate change. And this is a brewing humanitarian crisis that could rattle African regions — if not proactively tackled.
By Odewale Abayomi Joseph (Climate advocate and ICFJ Migration and Climate Fellow; @ODEWALEAbayomi)