By Ifeanyi Nwoko
Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has said that Nigeria must lead the efforts to save Lake Chad and pulling the region back from a major economic, social and ecological disaster.
Osinabjo said this at the opening of the International Conference on Lake Chad at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja on Monday.
The conference had as its theme: “Saving the Lake Chad to Revitalize the Basin’s Ecosystem for Sustainable Livelihood, Security and Development.”
Osinbajo said that if the lake was not saved, then over 40 million people across Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun, Niger and the Central African Republic, who depend on the water body for their survival were at risk.
He said that of the 40 million that were at risk, Nigeria bore the greatest burden of the population which explained why the nation was leading and contributing the most.
He said that conference was an avenue to create international awareness and get the desired commitment to save the lake which has lost 90 per cernt of its water body, having shrunk from a peak of 25,000 square kilometers to currently about 1,350 square kilometers.
“The implications of this are grave indeed. As the Lake has shrunk, and desertification has intensified, large numbers of people, once dependent on the Lake for livelihood – fishing, irrigation for farms, and drinking water for cattle, have been left bereft.
“Migration and resettlement have intensified, farmers and fishermen have been confronted with leaner harvests, and pastoralists have been compelled to venture farther in search of food and water for their cattle.
“That foray deeper southwards has led to the deadly clashes in Nigeria and in parts of West Africa, between herdsmen and farmers.
“Not surprisingly, the North East of Nigeria and the far west of Chad where the lake is located have in the past several years been the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency,” he said.
The VP called for inclusion and integration of local communities and civil society groups in the design, implementation of interventions for the restoration of the Lake Chad Basin.
He insisted that the World will pay a steep price if stakeholders choose to resort to unilateral actions and the pursuit of selfish interests; if we collectively fail to rise boldly to this challenge.
“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 said.
The Vice President of Nigeria however said that the disaster was only one side of the story noting that there was a determined and commendable work going on to redress it and rewrite the fate of the Lake Chad Basin and its people.
He said that the last thirty years have seen multinational efforts at halting the decline of the Lake and replenishing it.
The efforts he said included: “Plans by the commission’s member countries to replenish the lake by pumping water from the Congo Basin through the Oubangi River and then on to Lake Chad.
“The Feasibility Study of this Inter Basin water transfer from Congo River to the Lake, which was supported by Nigeria with a grant of USD $5m;
“The approval and implementation of the Lake Chad Basin Commission’s Strategic Action Programme (SAP) in 2008 and its implementation, the creation and fundraising for a five-year Investment Plan (2013-2017), aimed at safeguarding the ecosystem of the basin,” he itemized, among others.
He expressed delight that the International Community was beginning to not only see the Lake Chad Basin issue as a challenge with global implications, but also taking steps to actively support the efforts of the member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission.
He thanked the United Nations and its agencies, especially UNESCO, which is a co-organizer of this conference, the African Development Bank, the World Bank, and other development partners.
“Let me therefore use this opportunity to solicit even greater regional, continental and international support for this cause.
“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 said.