Friday, August 9, 2013

Climate change Adaptation: Reporting the Lake Chad River Basin.

Aaron Kaah- Yancho

The Chad Lake basin has a surface area of 1 million square miles around it, including the far north regions of Cameroon. 

The Chad Lake basin
Since this once might inland sea shrunk by 90% in the 1970’s this region has become one of the world’s poorest. Yet even as the Lake Chad shrunk, the population of the region expanded.
An estimated 42 million people now live in this region, many of whom migrated from the Sahel region in  the north where arid land is turning into  desert sand dunes every year. 

The combination of disappearing resources and the increasing demand for land is making an already fragile poor region even poorer. Crop production has fallen as water becomes very increasingly scarce. 97% of food crop production in this region is rain fed. The extensive dry seasons  is  testimony that food crop production  has fallen to a considerable level according to the World Food Program.
The Lake Chad River Basin is occupied by Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Congo and Central African Republic.
                                              MEAGRE RESOURCES
In the Far North region of Cameroon all the riverbeds have dried up and the food crops on the farm fields have turned into dry sticks in the sand dunes. As families try to make the most of the scanty resources women and children trek long distances crying for water. When homes lack clean water for cooking these girls don’t attend school at all. In worse times when food is not available these girls  have no alternative than to go  farming  in order   to lean  their families support in search of a food security.

The grazing of livestock and the destruction of the forest for fuel wood advances erosions and encroachment of the desert. This year the dry season has extended to seven months and only three bags of grain and millet can be a family’s source of primary income and food security.  Women whose only asset is landed property are mostly affected.
This bad situation is becoming precarious as the farmers plant too much food crops and too densely on the same pieces of land. This methods exhaust  the soils as farm fields are left unfertile. This gruesome picture explains how agricultural output has fallen in the Lake Chad river basin even as the climate changes put an already fragile situation to a mess.
The story of the Lake Chad basin is exactly what scientists have been echoing worldwide. This is a simple illustration in response to the climate changes, the unsustainable land use systems, lack of water and forest destruction around sub sahara Africa and the world.
As this reporter  tours the far north region of Cameroon, the land is fast turning in to a desert as the inhabitance live in near famine conditions.
Change in the Lake Chad basin is constant and the people who made their homes  out there are learning to make the most of this with the available limited resources. They farm and harvest their crops in the extreme conditions, sometimes following the rainy season which is always unpredictable.
This year the rainy season has skipped for about seven months from November to June with a dry and very dusty weather.
According to the farmers in the far north region of Cameroon, Lake Chad basin flooded regularly in history providing fertile soils for the subsistent farmers in the area. But because of it extreme shallow nature the Lake fluctuated dramatically making the farming activities in the basin area uncertain and tidious.
The Global International Waters Assessment, in a study of the region published by the United Nations, reported that  the Lake changed from short and back again to its original size. The fishermen off the shores chased this shifting patterns upstream.
As time is passing, this irregular pattern has witnessed another story. The Sahel region which covers the basin right up to the north of Sahara is drying up and in the last 30 years the UN, in a report, said the Lake Chad River  basin area had attracted “the most substantial and sustained decline in rainfall measured anywhere in the world today.” This is blamed on the rising ocean temperatures that lead to global warming.
                                             THE  PEOPLE DELIMMA
As the Sahel dries up, many of the people who are nomads are chasing the south of the basin in search of arid land. But as the lake shrinks the rainy season is faded out as well.
As the population in the basin grows and its climate changed, the locals are striving to make the most of the limited resources available in the region and to control the disappearing resources.
The normal agricultural life has become an uphill task  as the farmers struggle to adjust with the shifting river beds.
When the lake flooded in the past  large scale agricultural production took place in the area but today sand dunes have taken over the farm fields. Some projects to irrigate farm land instead drain away fertile wetlands. Leaving the peasants down stream desperate in need of water for farming.
As the streams were diverted, farming along the basin diminished. Without the plant cover, the temperatures in the soils raised and water in soils evaporated swiftly.
As the mismanagement of the land was intense and  increasing, the vegetation was  also lost
 As the farm lands are buried under sand dunes and as the people strive for a food security, the basin is  now prone to violence. Many villagers tussle for water resources and grazing fields. And for many people daily life is changing as violence is also encroaching.
In the Nigerian section of the Lake, villages are buried under sand dunes even as the desert extends fast southwards. The residents in the villages have become the united Nations called “environmental refugees”.
In the nearby Sudan’s region of Darfur, this situation has reached crisis proportions as at least 200,000 died since civil war broke out there in 2003. The United Nations secretary general Koffi Anan called it “no accident|” that the violent in Darfur erupted during the drought in the Sahel where precipitation  declined 40% since the 1980’s. He also attributed strife in Burkina Faso, Somalia and the Ivory Coast to a “similar volatile mix of and water insecurity”.
A development organization -Heifer International Cameroon is helping the villages in the far north region of Cameroon to make the most of the resources on the ground. Farmers under various organizations are taught simple ways of pasture establishment, animal management and other ways of improving nutrition and hygiene in their homes.
The knowledge, most of these groups are earning is key to the development of their lives and homes.
One of the beneficiaries- Mama Bitang has awakened her life and that of her family with 9 dependents. This widow has fought poverty with Heifer donated animals (sheep) and mentoring through her Femmes Ambiteuses common initiative group.
Unfortunately this stitch in time is not enough as the means is limited. People who live in this basin are seeing little or no benefits from international efforts to help them. In 2008 an international organization Global Environment Facility mapped out a 20year plan as a start to a revolution to reforests the land and change water diversion policies in the area but the task has been too slow.
According to Heifer International Cameroon only 3% of household in the far north region of Cameroon with 6 million people had access to potable water or farm land.
As an urgent remedy is in wait, the efforts to institute broad base policies is not helping at all at the Lake Chad River Basin, because the region  and its people  was  fragmented by controversial policies laid down by the different governments around the Lake basin and the unnecessary numerous tribal conflicts over land and water resources.
With limited means or infrastructures, information dissemination has been fragile and poor, making it a challenging task to educate people on the issues at stake and to introduce broad base policies to people who are either on the run or environmental refugees.
And despite the best efforts of a community that depends on one another, it remains difficult to overcome the stultifying effects of the droughts. And who doubts that Violence erupts where resources are scanty and where Governments make very little efforts to help the people in need because of corruption  and  bad governance.

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