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Climate Change and Fragility in the Lake Chad Basin

Lake Chad Basin Crisis January 2017

Climate change and its impact on conflict has gained prominent attention in recent global security discourse. Although there is no mono-causal correlation between climate change and conflict, the impact of environmental change on population displacement and regional conflict cannot be underestimated. In the case of the Lake Chad Basin, decades of depletion of the lake due to climate variabilities have largely contributed to fueling insecurity in riparian communities whose livelihoods depend on the lake. In the 1960s, Lake Chad had an area of more than 26,000km. However, it had shrunk to less than 1,500 km by 1997, and dwindled further to 1,350 km by 2014. Agriculture is the mainstay of the local economy of communities across the Lake Chad Basin, but the drastic depletion of the region's water has affected crop, livestock, and fish production. The impact of this is evident in the rise of environmental migration, population displacement, poverty, and food insecurity within the region's communities. This has heightened competition over resources such as water, land, and food, resulting in tension, conflict and intercommunal violence. Beyond this, terrorist groups, especially Boko Haram and the Islamic State West African Province, are exploiting these fault lines to recruit vulnerable youth and strengthen their insurgencies in communities across the countries of the Lake Chad Basin.

Nexus between Climate Change and Insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin

Climate variabilities continue to impact food security and humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin. About 80-90 percent of the Basin's population depends on agriculture, livestock, and fisheries, but warming temperatures are causing desertification and water scarcity, which in turn reduces food security, especially in the region's fishing and farming communities. The shrinking lake is becoming uninhabitable to fish and other species, thus worsening the living conditions of communities that depend on the lake for their livelihoods. In the 1960s, fishermen captured about 200,000 metric tons of fish annually, creating about 200,000 jobs for commercial fish sellers. However, this production has slowed over the years, as yields have drastically declined due to insufficient access to water.

The humanitarian impact is severe. In Niger, for instance, a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report[1] revealed that of the 704,000 inhabitants in the affected area, 340,000 are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, with 134,800 facing food security issues and 12,000 children suffering acute malnutrition. In addition, Nigeria reportedly has the highest number of people affected by the recession of Lake Chad: 8,500,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 5,200,000 facing food insecurity (out of 12,000,000 people living in the affected area).[2]

The region's growing water crisis also negatively impacts community security. Increased water scarcity in the Basin diminishes foliage that supports livestock grazing, which in turn heightens competition over resources between farmers and herders. This generates violent clashes between farmers and herders, further increasing the fragility of communities in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad.

Beyond food insecurity and intercommunal conflict, the accelerating depletion of resources in the Lake Chad Basin correlates with increased terrorism and extremist violence in the region. With over 30 million people dependent on the lake for food and water, insurgent groups have leveraged the populace's growing deprivation to recruit and radicalize vulnerable youth to join the "Jihad" against the region's corruption-plagued secular governments. These extremist groups also exploit governance shortcomings, weak state presence in host communities, and high levels of corruption among public officials in crafting a propaganda strategy aimed at weakening state-citizen relations and gaining support among local populations. Communal fragility in the Lake Chad Basin further intersects with criminal activity, including kidnapping for ransom, drug trafficking, small arms and light weapons proliferation, and armed robbery. In turn, the region's insurgent groups collaborate with transnational organized crime networks to finance their violent activities.

The growing security crisis is devastating human security in the Lake Chad Basin. In 2018 alone, for example, 6,562 people were killed due to terrorist attacks and farmer-herder conflicts in northeastern Nigeria. Violence such as this has fueled the displacement of approximately 2,500,000 people in the Basin, led by Nigeria which recorded 1,900,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in 2017. Violence against women is also on the rise in the region due to terrorist and criminal activity. For example, a 2017 United Nations High Commission for Refugees report highlighted that 7,000 girls and women have suffered from sexual violence perpetrated by Boko Haram since 2009. Moreover, the 70-80 percent of Nigerian IDP children who are out of school are at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. In addition, women and girls kidnapped by extremist groups are forced into marriage to combatants with the threat of being publicly executed or used as human bombs.

Response Strategies

Growing insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin has attracted responses from regional actors and international partners aimed at stabilizing affected communities. In November 2017, the African Union (AU) Commission, Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and development partners designed a Regional Strategy for the Stabilization, Recovery and Resistance of the Boko Haram Affected Areas of the Lake Chad Basin. This has supported affected communities in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa in Nigeria; Diffa in Niger; Hajder-Lamis in Chad; and the Northern Region of Cameroon. However, a lack of sustainable funding and challenges in the development of national action plans continue to hinder implementation of the strategy. Another response was the creation of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), established by the LCBC under the mandate of the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN to counter Boko Haram insurgencies and contribute to safety and security in the Lake Chad Basin through increased regional cooperation. Despite military achievements in recapturing communities previously controlled by terrorist groups in the region, however, Boko Haram violence continues to devastate communities and drive up displacement and refugee numbers.

The FAO's response strategy seeks to improve food security and strengthen resilience in vulnerable communities and among displaced populations by enhancing access to financial services, providing emergency livelihood support, and strengthening coordination of the food security sector. In addition, Nigeria adopted a national climate change response strategy in 2011 that seeks to reduce vulnerability to climate change and increase community resilience. The National Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action on Climate Change for Nigeria mapped out a diversified action plan that applied to every sector. However, implementation at the state level has been a major challenge since both state and local authorities lack the needed technical and financial resources. Region-wide, there are challenges of coordination, articulation, and complementarity among the multiple strategies of various actors in the Lake Chad Basin. This often results in duplication of functions and negatively affects operational synergy and strategic coherence.

Mitigating the Challenges

To effectively address the impact of climate change in the Lake Chad Basin, the LCBC should enhance cooperation and collaboration with regional and international partners. This would help ensure robust articulation and coordination of the various strategies and provide adequate support to farming communities devastated by climate change. In addition, climate adaptation strategies should be linked with counterterrorism strategies to bolster community resilience against the threats of terrorism, extremism, and criminal activities that have devastated the Lake Chad Basin. Lastly, the LCBC would do well to develop and implement member states' national climate adaptation plans through engagement with and inclusive participation of local populations.

In a nutshell, the growing security crisis in the Lake Chad Basin is not solely a result of terrorist insurgencies. Rather, a significant driver is climate change and its associated impact on a population whose livelihood depends on a rapidly depleting lake. This, in turn, fuels intercommunal conflict and intersects with terrorist and organized criminal activities. The ultimate consequence is increased human and state fragility across the Lake Chad Basin. What is critically required to break this cycle and stabilize the affected communities is for the LCBC and international partners to enhance cooperation, ensure robust articulation and complementarity of their various climate change response strategies, and align these with counterterrorism strategies.

Osei Baffour Frimpong is a current Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding (SVNP) scholar with the Wilson Center Africa Program during the spring 2020 term. He is a Regional Researcher and Conflict Analyst with the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), a member organization of the SVNP.

[1]See report by FAO, Lake Chad Basin Crisis: Response Strategies 2017-2019 (2017) (Accessed 2/17/2020).

[2]Ibid. FAO, Lake Chad Basin Crisis: Response Strategies 2017-2019 (2017).

About the Author


Osei Baffour Frimpong

Former Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding Scholar;
Lead Regional Researcher and Conflict Analyst, West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), Ghana
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