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Latest update : 2009-12-07

Is Lake Chad disappearing ?

With the attention of the world fixed on the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, France 24 correspondents Melissa Bell and Hélène Frade travelled to Chad to take a closer look at its shrinking lake.

The first thing that strikes you about Bol on the North Eastern shore of Lake Chad is how terribly far from anywhere else it actually is. Far enough from the four capitals of the countries that border the lake as the crow flies, but even further when you take into account the sandy consistency of the road that connects it to the closest of those cities, N'djamena.

 
A fact, perhaps, that goes some way to explaining the second thing that strikes you about Bol- that it isn't what you might expect after reading many of the recent articles in the international press devoted to the shrinking of Lake Chad. What you expect to find, having read them, is a village once built on the Lake but now about 30 kilometers from the water's edge. What you actually find is a village that still sits very close to the water. The old timers will tell you that the water level has fallen but by far less than 30 kilometers. Now, in this part of the world, old timers tend to be fairly hard to come by, but we got lucky and met several on our journey. The first one we met, in Bol, showed us where the water had stood in his youth. And the line he pointed to in the sandy ground, was only a few dozen meters from where the water sits now.
 
But Bol is a long way away. A long way from the journalists and climatologists and politicians, currently taking an interest in the area. And so perhaps it is not that surprising that it is not terribly accurately described. But there is a more worrying possibility. That conclusions are not only being drawn but actively sought about parts of the world that seem to suggest that something worrying is going on but about which we actually don't know a great deal.
 
From Bol, we headed into the lake itself and onto its many islands. The old men we met- and living memory is just about all you have to go on in these parts- all told a tale of retreating water, rising grasses and depleted fish stocks. Problems with huge consequences in a part of the world where life and survival are so intimately linked with the water. Problems made worse by the corrupt men in uniform- a sort of indisctinct mass of military men, policemen, customs officers and plain old crooks dressed up as officials- who continue to take their various taxes and levies from a population often at the end of its tether.
 
Problems a million miles away from the experts' debates and politicians' solutions. Among them- the deviation of the waters of the oubangui river into the chari river and on into lake Chad. A solution not yet properly investigated although already hailed as the answer to the lake's problems.
 
In fact no one knows what effect such a scheme would have on the fragile ecosystems of Lake Chad. A lake, it must remembered, that has shrunk and has grown before. A lake famous for its variations. A lake it is all too easy to take as proof of climate change. A lake that deserves first and foremost to be better understood. 

 

By Melissa BELL , Hélène FRADE

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