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Climate change poses a major threat to regions in the Lake Chad Basin – as well as the whole world

13 April 2022
Reading time: 5 minutes

Deforestation is one of the major factors contributing to the environmental crisis as climate change and mismanagement of the land and water by people take their toll on the Lake Chad Basin.

Cutting trees is a way of life for many, and often their only means of survival, yet it has had a devastating effect on the environment.

Lake Chad used to be one of Africa’s largest freshwater bodies but it has shrunk by 90% in the past 60 years, since the chronic droughts began at the beginning of 1970s, according to a report by DownToEarth published last year.

The surface area of the lake was 26,000 square kilometres in 1963; it had now reduced to less than 1,500 square kilometres. Its population was exploding and the region had been ripped apart by conflict at an unprecedented scale, said the report.

The lake straddles Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

More than 10 million people across the region were in need of emergency assistance, according to the United Nations, which described the crisis as “one of the worst in the world”.

The region has a rich aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. It comprises biosphere reserves, World Heritage and Ramsar sites, as well as wetlands of international conservation interests.

The report said that for years the lake had been supporting drinking water, irrigation, fishing, livestock and economic activity for more than 30 million people. It was vital for indigenous, pastoral and farming communities but climate change had fuelled a massive environmental and humanitarian crisis.

The ever-changing climate had dramatically worsened the situation, amplifying food and nutritional insecurity in the region. The temperature was rising one-and-a-half times faster than the global average. The seasonal and inter-rainfall patterns had been drastically changing each year, said DownToEarth.

Locals were facing challenges because of their inability to adapt to climate change. Earlier, the situation was different. If rain failed, people often moved to other suitable locations to farm or graze their herds, but due to heavy military restriction as a part of counter-insurgency efforts, these options were no longer available, it said.

The depleting natural resources and grazing lands in the region had increased conflict between farmers and pastoralists. About 4,000 people had died in Nigeria as a result of farmer-pastoralist conflicts between 2016 and 2019, the report said.

RNI reporter Aisha Jamal spoke to locals who depended on cutting down trees because it was their only means of earning a living.

Ba Mato, a firewood seller in Maiduguri, said: “Cutting trees and selling firewood is the job we depend on. We often go to bushes to cut down trees and sell the wood to people in the city. This has been our practice for years.”

“We have always cut trees in the bushes around Maiduguri. But we do not often go to the bushes these days because of the insecurity. Ten years ago the forests were thick with trees. But there are fewer trees now and, anyway, we’re too scared to do our work because we might encounter insurgents, who could harm or even kill us. Now we have to buy firewood from Potiskum in the Yobe Local Government Area and sell it here in Maiduguri, said a man, who gave his name only as Fannami.

Muhammad Suleiman, a lecturer in the department of geography at the College of Education Waka Biu in Borno State, said deforestation was a threat to the whole world.

He said people cut down trees for various reasons, including farming, financial purposes, urbanisation and industries.

Over population was a major factor, he said.

“Looking at the insecurity issues the Lake Chad region faces, where many people are forced to migrate from their communities to others is a typical example because tress have to be cut down to accommodate people and, at the same time, some people depend on cutting down trees to make money. For many of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) it is their only means of survival.”

Suleiman said the rise in temperature levels had led to global warming and resulted in climate change which affected the atmosphere of an environment.

“Borno State has been recording temperatures around 43°C and 44°C, which makes it very hard for people to cope. Deforestation is one of the causes of climate change. Desertification is on the rise. Erosion of the soil – when the uppermost layer of the soil is washed away – affects its fertility because it has fewer nutrients and does not yield good food production which, of course, causes food insecurity to rise.”

Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and or carbon monoxide, affected the quality of life of humans.

“The issue also poses a threat to animals that inhabit the forests,” he said.

Suleiman said all these factors added to food insecurity and water scarcity, among others.

The public needed to be educated about the dangers and effects of deforestation, global warming and climate change.

“There have been changes in rainfall. It is not like it was before. The majority of the population depends on farming, so they need to be educated about deforestation and its causes.”

People needed to be taught how to adapt when there was an environmental calamity, such as floods and drought. They had to reduce their harmful activities and practices, he said.

“Lots of people do not realise that some of their activities contribute to common issues, such as floods, which can lead to illnesses, such as cholera and other water-borne diseases and higher cases of malaria.”

Suleiman said whenever one tree was cut down, two need to be planted.

“If people do not pay keen attention to their environment, climate change will not only affect the Lake Chad Basin regions, but also the whole world.”


About the author

Elvis Mugisha