ONCE again, problems of the rapidly-shrinking Lake Chad and the humanitarian disasters attached to it resurfaced last week when the President of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, Maria Espinosa-Garces, visited Nigeria and toured the area.

At a joint news conference in Abuja with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, Espinosa-Garces rang the usual alarm bell at the great havoc that the climate change phenomenon has wreaked on the once mighty Lake which, only about 40 years ago, covered an area of over 24,000 square kilometres. Today, it has shrunk to just about 2,000, despite the galloping human population around it.

When exploding population meets shrinking resources, the result is extreme poverty, which is obviously the major driver of the Islamist insurgency that has bedevilled areas around the Lake for the past ten years. Espinosa-Garces observed that climate change has impacted the Lake Chad drastically, destroying livelihoods, creating security problems, stoking hunger and promoting underdevelopment.

Last year alone, two major events that drew the attention of the world to the Lake Chad disaster took place. On February 26, 2018, Nigeria and other Lake Chad Basin countries (Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic) hosted the International Conference on Lake Chad under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, in Abuja to develop consensus on steps needed to be taken to solve problems facing the region.

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Also between September 3 and 4, 2018, more than 70 countries, international organisations and civil society groups gathered in Berlin, Germany, where funds were proposed to attack the problems. The sum of $2.17 billion was announced for the support of humanitarian work, peace building efforts and development activities in the Lake Chad countries of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Multilateral financial institutions also pledged $467 million in concessional loans.

It is already known that about $50 billion is needed for the recharging of the Lake with water from the Ubangi River in the Central African Republic.

However, for any of these laudable plans to yield results, the Islamic terrorism in the Lake Chad vicinity must first be eradicated. This is an assignment which is proving very difficult in spite of the gallant efforts of the Lake Chad Basin countries which set up a Joint Multinational Task Force, JMTF, for the purpose. The world must come down to remove this threat together. Only then can the Lake Chad be saved.

More than 20 million lives are at stake. If the worst comes, the human misery and migration problems it will trigger are better imagined than experienced. The Sahara Desert is advancing with venom and claiming territories once occupied by the Lake Chad.

We must go beyond the alarm bells and act to save the Lake Chad.

VANGUARD