Lake Chad Disappears

Lake Chad sits on the borders of Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon in West Africa. It has long been an important source of fish and of water for irrigation.

Soon, however, the people of the region may no longer be able to rely on Lake Chad. That is because the lake is disappearing. Since 1963, the surface area of Lake Chad has decreased from 9,562 square miles (25,000 sq. km) in 1963, to just 521 square miles (1,350 sq. km) in 2007.

The dwindling of the lake has been catastrophic for those who live near it. Lake Chad used to yield 253,452 tons (230,000 metric tonnes) of fish; now that has dropped to only 55,116 tons (50,000 metric tonnes.) There is not enough water to irrigate or moisten the soil, and there have been conflicts between herders and farmers over land rights. The people of eastern Nigeria are especially threatened; the lake has run away from them, across the border with Chad. When they try to follow it to claim a portion of the few remaining fish, they are frequently harassed by officials.

Scientists believe that up to 50 percent of the lake loss may be caused by an unsustainable increase in irrigation, which multiplied by four times between 1983 and 1994. Another factor contributing to the loss of water has been overgrazing, which has deforested the region, creating an overall drier climate. And in general throughout Africa, global warming has played a part in the loss of water supplies, according to a study by NASA and the German Aerospace Centre.

As a result of all of these factors, Lake Chad has shrunk to almost a puddle. Muhammadu Bello, a fisherman from the region, told BBC reporter Senan Murray in 2007, "Some 27 years ago when I started fishing on the lake, we used to catch fish as large as a man." No longer.

(.6°C), according to a 2003 study by Catherine O'Reilly of Vassar College, Andrew Cohen of the University of Arizona, and other researchers. The change in air temperature above Tanganyika decreased water circulation, which prevented nutrients' rise from deep waters to surface waters. As nutrient levels fell, algae at the lake's surface also decreased. This decline, in turn, meant that there was less food for fish.

Declining fish stocks are a serious problem, because people around Tanganyika eat 200,000 tons of fish from the lake every year. That amount is about 25 percent to 40 percent of the protein consumed by the population in the region. The scientists predicted that with more global warming stocks might decline by as much as 30 percent. Researcher Andrew Cohen noted, "Given the already significant problems of malnutrition and civil conflict in central Africa, a significant decline in fishing yields resulting from climate change could lead to extremely serious consequences for the region's food supply."9

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