Climate change, conflict: What is fuelling lake Chad Basin crisis

Lake Chad Basin, once one of the largest in Africa, is gradually disappearing, due to climate change and persistent conflicts, often linked to the presence of extremist groups. Over time, their populations have become very vulnerable, due to the fact that both factors have fueled tensions between the communities and generated significant displacements of people.

In the last 60 years, the size of the lake has decreased by 90% as a result of prolonged drought and the impacts of the climate crisis. The surface of the lake has gone from 26,000 square kilometres in 1963 to less than 1,500 square kilometres today. This reduction, which is known as an ecological disaster, has not only destroyed livelihoods but implies an invaluable loss of biodiversity and chaos for the survival of man and the environment.

Lake Chad is a historically large, shallow, endorheic lake in Africa, the size of which has varied over the centuries. Source: Flickr

The human rights group Refugees International produced a comprehensive report on the situation in that region. Consequently, he called for the issue to be addressed as a central point at a high-level international conference in Niamey, the capital of Niger.

It found that the reduction of natural resources due to adverse weather is increasing tensions between communities, which in turn triggers the number of displacements. The independent humanitarian organization said around 3 million people have been displaced and another 11 million were in need of humanitarian assistance.

“For too long, not enough attention has been paid to how climate change fuels violence and displacement,” Alexandra Lamarche, lead author of the report, told The Associated Press. “International responses to the Lake Chad Basin crisis have focused singularly on the presence of armed groups.”

Climate change shrinks Lake Chad

The Lake Chad region faces “much more than a climate change and ecological crisis,” It is a humanitarian issue that touches on peace and regional development”, Mabingue Ngom Senior advisor to the executive director of the United Nations population agency said.

For more than a decade, the presence of Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the basin has been the focus of regional and international engagement.

Violence erupted in 2009 when Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group, launched its armed campaign in northeastern Nigeria. Since then, insecurity has spread to neighbouring countries along the shores of the Lake Chad basin: Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

According to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, it shrank as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998, but “the 2007 (satellite) image shows significant improvement over previous years. Source: Flickr

International actors and regional governments have understandably focused attention and resources on the security threat posed by these insurgent groups. But they have ignored the interaction between climate change, community violence and the forced displacement of the civilian population, the organization maintains.

Local and displaced communities in Chad told Refugees International that before the rise of insurgent groups, competition for natural resources was already fueling conflicts across the country. This competition was often held at the community level and focused on land and water. It occurred frequently among different groups, such as herders, fishermen, and farmers.

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These conflicts initially became less frequent with the rise of extremist groups and insurgencies. However, the struggle for resources made scarcer by climate change has recently resurfaced, displacing communities in the region.

Humanitarian crisis: violence, hunger and displaced persons

Now both armed groups and intercommunal violence are forcing people to flee. As a UN worker told the Refugees International team, “climate change maintains insecurity” in the Lake Chad basin.

Today, 11 million people across the region are in need of humanitarian assistance. Half of these are experiencing acute food insecurity. More than 3 million people have been displaced, most within the borders of their own countries.

Insurgent violence has also led many donors and aid agencies to ignore how climate change is fanning the flames of violence in the broader region.

Despite these pressing needs, the humanitarian responses of the four countries in the basin region go underfunded year after year. By the end of 2022, each country’s humanitarian appeal had only received between 42 and 59% of the funding needed for aid groups to provide assistance.

All stakeholders need to move beyond a securitized approach to the shared challenges facing the region, the group suggested. That approach overlooks how both factors fuel insecurity.

The Third Lake Chad Basin Conference and the upcoming strategic review of the Lake Chad Basin Commission offer opportunities to change course.

Extreme events will be more abundant

The United Nations weather agency warned that the Lake Chad basin “is particularly vulnerable to extreme events related to climate change, such as floods and droughts.” And it issued alerts that “extreme events are likely to become more abundant. And they will cause more frequent droughts and floods with impacts on food security and general security in the region.”

“The fight over access to natural resources (in Logone Birni) forced 60,000 people to seek refuge in neighbouring Chad at the end of 2021,” said Alexandra Lamarche, lead author of the report.

The Lake Chad Basin in West and Central Africa covers 8% of the African continent. And it is home to 42 million people whose livelihoods revolve around herding, fishing and farming, according to figures from the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

She reiterated the expert that the conference is “the perfect opportunity for international donors to commit to long-term solutions. To address the nexus between climate change, violence and displacement in the region”.

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