Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari continues to call for an inter-basin water transfer from the Congo River Basin to save the shrinking Lake Chad. The project he is referring to is Transaqua, which was adopted at the International conference to Save Lake Chad in Abuja in February. Transaqua is a transformative infrastructure project will potentially affect 12 African nations in the Great Lakes region and Lake Chad Basin. I have been an advocate of this project for many years and was able to discuss it with President Buhari shortly after he was elected in March 2015. Funding for a feasibility study of Transaqua is being negotiated now with the Italian government. It is in the interest of all African nations, the African Union, and Africa Development bank to support this project. In the words of the former Executive Secretary of the Lake chad Basin Commission: “The loss of Lake Chad would be a catastrophe for Africa.”
We will continue to keep Lake Chad issues on front burner says President Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari, has stressed that his administration will continue to keep the issue of reviving the Lake Chad on the front burner and exert more commitment from the developed countries to do the needful.
He stated this during a courtesy visit by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) and his investiture as Patron of the Foundation, President Buhari said it was regrettable that the issue of the receding Lake Chad had not been addressed till recent times.
‘‘The problem of climate change is real. The desert encroachment is aggravating it. The population explosion in Nigeria is another big challenge.
‘‘The drying up of Lake Chad is a serious thing for Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin countries. Nigeria is much more affected because fishing, animal husbandry and farming are affected very seriously.
‘‘We are trying to prick the conscience of the developed countries that have the resources and the technology to quickly execute the inter basin transfer from Congo Basin to Chad Basin,” he said.
In a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said Buhari also welcomed the advocacy by the Foundation on the need to protect endangered plants and animals in the country.
To this end, he directed the Federal Ministry of Environment to reflect this in its budgetary requirements in the next fiscal year, adding; “the rate at which animals are being hunted and eliminated around the country, we must seriously give the forest reserves our support and attention as much as we can.”
Earlier in his remarks, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, Member, Board of Trustees of the Foundation told the President that the nation’s wildlife was fast becoming extinct.
He added that for more than 10 years, the rate of deforestation in Nigeria has been one of the highest in the world with the country losing close to 95 per cent of its original forest cover.
He thanked the President for placing great emphasis on environmental issues, especially the aspect of climate change, and invited him to take charge of ‘Greening Nigeria.’
“We are all proud of the role that the Nigerian delegation headed by Mr President played during the climate change agreement in Paris and your single-minded determination to keep the issue in the front burner both at home and abroad.
“Your Government has also recorded remarkable achievements in addressing soil erosion with about 60 projects executed by the Ecological Funds all over Nigeria.
“This is not surprising when we remember that it was you, in your first coming as Head of State, that signed the first comprehensive law that addressed the protection of endangered plants and animals in Nigeria through the ‘Endangered Species Decree of 1985’, Joda said.
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I wish to begin this keynote address by recalling two important events that happened 55 years ago. On 25thMay 1963 in Addis Ababa, thirty-three (33) African Heads of State and Government form the Organization of the African Union (OAU) with high hopes for rapid political independence, peace, security, economic cooperation, development, and a better life for the people of Africa.
The then President of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in a speech at the meeting said;“Our continent certainly exceeds all the others in potential hydroelectric power, which some experts assess as 42% of the world’s total.”
Sadly, fifty-five years after this speech, most countries of sub-Saharan Africa have less than 60% access to electricity. In the DRC, a country with the highest potential for hydro-electricity generation, less than 16% of the population have access to electricity. In Niger, it is about 12% access to electricity.
A year after the creation of the OAU, precisely on the 22nd May 1964 at Fort-Lamy now known as N’Djamena, the LCBC was created with equally high hopes. At creation the LCBC was expected to help an estimated population of 11,091,000 people to sustainably manage the Lake Chad and its basin. There was adequate water for development for this population as the Lake Chad had a surface area extent of about 25,000 km2. Today, the Lake Chad region is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world with 7 million displaced people and about 2 million depending on humanitarian assistance and has the highest poverty and birth rates in the world.
Without education, energy and infrastructure no Nation will be out of poverty and misery.
Challenges Decades of Rapid Growth, Droughts, and Famine
Fifty-four years after the creation of the LCBC, the basin is characterized by steadily increasing population and drought. The population of the present conventional basin experienced a 100% decennial growth rate. The population increase by 33% to 31,461,000 by the year 2000 and 40 million by 2010. The Lake Chad Basin population is projected to be 50 million in 2020 and 62 million in 2030.
As the population growth rate increases every decade, the Lake Chad basin is at the same time undergoing severe droughts, famine, and water distribution problems, human and animal diseases. The consequences of these negative factors meant that local population must move or risk property destruction or death. As population groups migrate to minimize the risk, the chances for conflict increases among and between ethnic groups based on social, cultural, economic and/or religion differences.
These changes that have occurred in the past 54 years in the Lake Chad conventional basin principally because of global climate change and augmented by accelerated population growth are responsible for the accumulation of social tension which could have led to the outbreak of the violent insurgency that we face today in the Lake Chad basin and the migration of our youth to Europe.
3.1 The Inter-Basin Water Transfer Study
In 1992, a decision was taken to develop a master-plan for the Lake Chad basin to include the establishment of an environmentally sound management of the natural resources of the Lake Chad conventional basin. The feasibility study for the water transfer from the Congo basin to the Lake Chad was the second priority project out of 36 projects selected for implementation in the LCBC Master Plan.
One proposal to transfer water from the Congo to the Lake Chad called “TRANSAQUA” was submitted to the LCBC in 1984 at the height of the most severe drought affecting the Lake Chad basin. This proposal was approved and shared by the then President Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo (former Zaire) but was considered too big hence a smaller proposal taking water from river Ubangi to the Lake Chad was adopted by the Member States of the LCBC as requested by the Government of the Central African Republic.
Raising an estimated 6 million USD for the pre-feasibility study of the Ubangi – Lake Chad Inter-Basin Water Transfer became a challenge until the government of Nigeria under President Olusegun Obasanjo provided support and launched a diplomatic campaign to get the no-objection of the two Congos for the study to begin. The conduct of the feasibility study was awarded to a Canadian Firm, CIMA International, and work commenced on the 13th October 2009 for a period of 28 months.
The study was completed in 2011 with the conclusion that the Ubangi – Lake Chad Inter-Basin Water Transfer project is technically feasible and economically viable from the Congo basin via the Ubangi River to Lake Chad through a combined inter-basin transfer: a pumping transfer via the Palambo dam on the Ubangi River and a gravity transfer via the Bria dam through a deviation of the Kotto River. This will increase the water level of the lake by at least one meter(1.0m)in both the south and the north basins and increase the size of the lake by about 5, 500 km2 over a period of 4 – 5 years. The combined cost estimate of the projects for the transfer was put at US$14.5 billion.
The result of the study was endorsed by the 14th Summit of Head of States and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission on 30th April 2012.
3.2 Solution to Lake Chad Insecurity and the Future of Africa
The installation of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 opened new opportunities to continue the search for a long-term solution for insecurity in the Lake Chad and the Sahel, economic integration of Central Africa, West Africa and the Sahel in a new form of African regional partnership.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari secured a financial support in the amount of $1.8 m from the Chinese government and facilitated the engagement of Power China International of China to conduct “Basic Research” to update data and re-package the Water Transfer Project from the Congo Basin to the Lake Chad that will inform the selection of a suitable engineering option for the water transfer.
Among the measures taken under the new approach is to convene all stakeholders from the AU, ECOWAS, ECCAS, EAC, CICOS and LCBC and international partners to share experiences and engage in constructive discussions on how to restore the Lake Chad and promote African peace, security, development, and integration.
Restoring the Lake Chad is primarily an African strategic problem. Whatever action is taken to restore the Lake Chad, the direct beneficiaries are the African people. Today, following the dreams of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and his 32 fellow Head of States, African shave continental governing institutions in the form of the AU, the AUC and its subsidiary bodies such as the regional economic communities (REC). In Africa we also have developed common visions for infrastructure development (PIDA) and the ‘Agenda 2063’ for the socio-economic transformation of the continent as well as being a building block in the achievement of the goals of the 1991 Abuja Treaty on the African Economic Community.
What the Lake Chad region is requesting is that African leaders should look at the problem of insecurity and the lack of development in the geographical periphery of the Lake Chad region, the Sahel and the Central African region and develop an integrated regional approach using African resources to find a solution that will benefit all Africans. We hope the discussions and the result of the international conference on Lake Chad shall open some new ways of addressing contemporary African problems while at the same time laying the foundation for future African peace, development, and integration.
I wish to end this address by pointing out to our critiques that at this stage the people of the Lake Chad basin countries are only looking at the technical and economic feasibilities of all ideas to restore the Lake Chad. The Lake Chad basin countries also want to concretize a new partnership with our fellow Africans in the Congo basin countries to create a giant transportation, energy and agricultural infrastructure for the central African and the Sahel regions to create jobs for millions of our youth and lay the basis for the future developments for socio- economic integration, peace and security for the African continent.
There is no solution to the shrinking of the Lake Chad that does not involve recharging the Lake with water from outside the basin. The issue in our opinion is which option will be the most effective and the most beneficial to both the donor and receiving basins.
Therefore, inter-basin water transfer is not an option; but a necessity, otherwise we are faced with the possibility of Lake Chad disappearing and that would be catastrophic for the entire Africa continent.
Poverty, misery, loss of hopes and the spread of violent extremism, human trafficking and, migration in the Lake Chad Basin, which I have sadly witnessed, has endured for too long. It must come to end. That is the task before all of us, who are gathered here today at this historic conference.
Long live sub-regional cooperation ! Long live African solidarity ! Je vous remercie pour votre amiable attention !