This is not about the Aral Sea.
Lake Chad fishermen pack up their nets
By Senan Murray
BBC News website, Lake Chad
Muhammadu Bello and his nine children used to depend on Lake Chad for their livelihoods.
But the former fisherman became a farmer as the waters vanished eastwards from the shores of his village in north-east Nigeria.
Experts are warning that the lake, which was once Africa's third largest inland water body, could shrink to a mere pond in two decades.
A recent study by Nasa and the German Aerospace Centre blames global warming and human activity for Africa's disappearing water.
"Africa is being cheated again by the industrialised West," says Jacob Nyanganji of Nigeria's University of Maiduguri.
"Africa does not produce any significant amount of greenhouse gases, but it's our lakes and rivers that are drying up. America has refused to ratify Kyoto and it is our lakes that are drying up."
Villagers in Nigeria's semi-arid border region with Chad, Niger and Cameroon understand full well the consequences of what is happening.
"I don't know what global warming is, but what I do know is that this lake is dying and we are all dying with it," says Mr Bello.
"Some 27 years ago when I started fishing on the lake, we used to catch fish as large as a man.
"But now this is all the fishermen bring in after a whole night of fishing," he says pointing at tiny catfish piled on the ground in Doron Baga's once-famous fish market.
His family now farm on rich, dark loamy soil that was once part of the lake - growing onions, peppers, tomatoes and maize.
"This entire area used to be covered with water when I first came here," Mr Bello says with a sweep of his hand as we left the village by car heading towards the lake - a journey which took three hours along a bumpy dusty trail.
As recently as 1966, Lake Chad, which sits between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, was a huge expanse of water that the locals fondly referred to as an "ocean".
The Central African Republic's Logone and Chari rivers empty into the lake. But reduced rainfall and damming of the rivers means that only half of the water now gets to the lake.
The Komadougou-Yobe River in far north-eastern Nigeria which also feeds the lake now flows only during the rainy season.
"I tell you even animals and birds have been dying around here. There are fewer of them now," says Musa Niger, a fisherman in Duguri, an island village in the middle of the lake.
Another Duguri resident, Umaru Mustapha cuts in. He used to earn $100 a day, but now earns about $6.
"Some of our colleagues are tired of this difficult life and have turned to farming," he says.
"I cannot do this as there are hardly any rains these days and for dry season farming you have to depend on the lake water which is too much hassle," he says.
At the lake bank, workers offload heavy parcels of smoked catfish from locally made boats fitted with outboard engines.
The fish is brought in from the Chadian side of the lake where most of the water is to be found.
Nigerian fishermen who have chased the receding lake to Chadian and Cameroonian territories complain of harassment by tax officials and occasional clashes with locals.
"There are constant arguments over territory between fishermen," says Muhammad Sanusi, a fisherman in Dogon Fili, another village which sprang up in the middle of the drying lake less than 15 years ago.
"It's difficult to determine boundaries on water, yet the gendarmes [from Cameroon and Chad] always come after us and seize our fishing nets and traps and we have to pay heavily to get them back."
He says the arguments often lead to violence among the 30m-strong shoreline communities who are competing for access to water and pasture and some villagers now opt to seek employment in Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria's north-eastern Borno State.
For the politicians, there is no arguing with the figures: 40 years ago, the lake was 25,000 sq km and the daily fish catch was some 230,000 tonnes; now it is 500 sq km with a catch of barely 50,000 tonnes.
The Sahara Desert in the north is speeding towards the lake.
"Lake Chad is a global heritage and now a disaster waiting to happen," speaker of Nigeria's House of Representatives said at a recent meeting to discuss ways to save the disappearing lake.
Aminu Bello Masari told the meeting that "already pastoralists have been forced out of the lake to move their herds to the wetter south which has already caused conflicts between herders and farmers".
A plan to channel water from Oubangi River in the Central African Republic to Lake Chad is yet to begin due to lack of funding.
A feasibility study is still being discussed, after which the countries involved hope to approach international donors for funding.
But as livelihoods are destroyed and the desert heads ever southwards, time is of the essence for the planners.
Chad: SG Ban Highlights Country's Ignored Environmental Crisis
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
11 September 2007
Posted to the web 11 September 2007
During a visit to Chad last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Lake Chad, one of the most striking symbols of Africa's deteriorating environment.
"I came here to visit the lake to see for myself the damage caused by desertification and global warming," Ban said.
In less than 30 years, Lake Chad has shrunk from 25,000km2 to 2,000km2 today. Some 25 million people still live around the basin, many looking out on grounded boats and barren land which was once under water.
The lake is less than seven metres deep. Its size has always fluctuated throughout the seasons, but over the past four decades it
has become progressively smaller. A dryer climate and a higher demand for water for agriculture are the reasons for the decrease in its surface area, say researchers.
"It is a problem which must be made part of an important international plan," Ban said. "Our hope is that the United Nations and the international community will launch a big programme to save Lake Chad."
Member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission - Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria - each of which shares part of the Lake's shore, have been appealing for money to save the lake since 2003 when the Lake Chad Replenishment Project was launched.
The project would entail damming a regional river, the Oubangui, and redirecting its flow through a navigable channel to Lake Chad.
The World Bank and the Global Environment Facility have already been running ecosystem renewal projects.