Nigeria has restated commitment to efforts to restore the Lake Chad, saying the world will pay a steep price if stakeholders choose to resort to unilateral actions and pursuit of selfish interest in the region, instead of collectively rising to tackle the challenge.
This was contained in President Buhari’s speech on Monday at the opening of an international conference on saving the Lake Chad in Abuja.
“Let me assure you of the unflagging commitment of Nigeria – a founding member of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, the country with the largest number of people affected by the fortunes of Lake Chad, and perhaps the biggest contributor to its funding needs so far, – to supporting the implementation of the outcomes of this Conference, and the restoration of the Lake Chad Basin,” he stated.
Represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, President Buhari called for collective effort to save the Lake Chad, which is about eight percent of the size of Africa, and is shared by Algeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, Nigeria, Niger and Sudan.
About 12 % of the estimated 373.6 million populations of these eight countries live around the Lake Chad region, depending on the lake for farming, fishing, and livestock production.
The three-day conference seeks to create global awareness on the socio-economic and environmental challenges thrown up by the shrinkage of the Lake Chad, especially the threat to livelihoods and as it increasingly becomes a catalyst for inducing insecurity.
President Buhari said efforts should be made for the inclusion and integration of local communities, civil society groups in the design, and implementation of interventions for the restoration of the Lake Chad Basin.
He said this was imperative for ensuring that the depletion of the lake is halted.
He said: “Saving the Lake Chad is pulling our region back from a major economic, social and ecological disaster. Saving the Lake Chad is restoring and preserving the livelihoods of millions but perhaps more importantly preserving a resource that will be crucial to the economic sustenance and security of the fastest growing population in the world.”
He stated that the conference, with the theme: “Saving the Lake Chad to revitalize the Basin’s ecosystem for sustainable livelihood, security and development” would deepen local and international awareness of the existential threat to people in the nations straddled by the Lake Chad and who depend on the lake for their livelihood.
“Once the 6th largest lake in the world, providing freshwater and supporting fishing and livestock for centuries, the Lake Chad river basin has now shrunk by 90 percent of its size, from a peak of 25,000 square kilometres to currently about 1,350 square kilometres,” he said.
He noted that the implications of this were grave as the desertification of the region has intensified while people who depended on the lake have been left bereft.
According to the president, efforts have been made in the last 30 years to halt the decline of the Lake and replenish it.
Among these efforts were plans to pump water from the Congo Basin through the Oubangi River and on to Lake Chad as well as feasibility study of this Inter Basin water transfer from Congo River to the Lake, which Nigeria supported with a grant of USD $5m.
In his address of welcome at the conference, Nigeria’s Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, said the surface of Lake Chad has, over the past four decades, shrunk 25,000 square kilometres to “a meagre 2,500 square kilometres at some point.”
“It is important to note that saving the Lake Chad in a sustainable manner is a task which requires the collaboration of all relevant stakeholders,” Adamu said, urging all stakeholders to join in saving the lake from extinction.
He said delegates at the conference would deliberate on the issues of the Lake Chad and proffer solutions to the challenges facing it.
Others who spoke at the opening of the conference were Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, Mariam Katagun and representative of the Director-General of the United Nations.