Sunday, April 16, 2006

Slow death of Africa's Lake Chad

One of the world's great lakes is disappearing. Lake Chad - shared by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger - has receded to less than 20% of its former volume. Global warming is being blamed, as well as water extraction.

The land is parched dry and dusty but the first hint that there is water comes with the growing numbers of Caltropis dotting the landscape.

These strange, twisted plants have deep tap roots, and where they grow water is usually not far away.

But it did not seem very close as we left the scruffy town of Baga in a battered four-wheel drive jeep, lurching from rut to rut across what was once the lake bed itself.

Just 30 years ago, water covered the whole area. Baga was a waterfront town. Now it is stranded many miles from the lake as the land around it becomes desert. The Sahara is moving southwards.

View from space

To gauge the true scale of the environmental disaster under way at Lake Chad you first have to look at it from space.

From the unblinking eye of a satellite you can see the long decline. Once it was a huge inland sea, and just 40 years ago there was 15,000 square miles of water.

Now the latest satellite pictures put it at just over 500 square miles, and falling.

"Survival becomes a real problem here because we have no means of other livelihood," our driver says.

"We solely depend on the water and when there's not enough we have a serious problem."

At the lake bank, fishermen are pulling small black catfish from a large cylindrical fish trap made from bamboo. The catch is tiny.

"Before, you could fill about 30 of these traps with fish," said the fishermen, Musa Niger. "But now even if I put hundreds of these traps out, I hardly fill one because of the lack of fish."

He said the day's catch was worth about 750 naira (£3), whereas a few years ago he could sometimes earn 15,000 Naira (£60) for a day's fishing.

Read the rest here.

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