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Lake Chad – Tackling Climate-Fragility Risks

The world’s most extensive humanitarian crisis since 1945 is currently playing out in the four countries that surround Lake Chad: Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. Multiple stressors converge in the region. Unemployment, violent insurgencies, poverty and depleting resources interact with climate change and create a perfect storm of climate-fragility risks. The international community must act, in order to secure lives and livelihoods.

The 10-minute film investigates root causes for widespread misery and conflicts. To understand the crisis and secure lasting peace in times of climate change, one must shed light on the complexity of the crisis and learn from experiences on the ground.

"The world’s most extensive humanitarian crisis since 1945 is currently playing out in the four countries that surround Lake Chad: Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. The emergency in the region affects some 17 million people. 7.2 million are dependent on food aid and 2.4 million have been displaced. What are the root causes? How important is climate change? And what should be done to secure lasting peace?

Hamsatu Allamin, Regional Representative and Conflict Analyst, Nigeria Stability & Reconciliation Programme: The international community has recently recognized that the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast [of Nigeria] is one of the worst disasters in human history. Children are dying from malnutrition. Up until today, Boko Haram is still abducting women and girls and then forceful recruiting is happening. It is just unfortunate, honestly.

Mamadou Diop, Regional Representative, Action Against Hunger: Today we know that the economic situation in the Lake Chad region has deteriorated, because the people living primarily from fishing, herding and agriculture had to abandon their lands and ended up in refugee camps.


Multiple pressures converge around Lake Chad, ranging from unemployment and poverty, to political marginalization and gender-based violence, to climate change impacts such as droughts, desertification and depleting resources. Lake Chad is critically important to the surrounding population, providing water to more than 68 million people. The population is constantly growing, but the availability and the predictability of the lake’s waters have reduced dramatically.  

Florence Sylvestre, Director of Research, L'Institut de recherche pour le développement: Today, this is a sort of miracle, a sort of oasis in Sub-Saharan Africa but in the context of climate change, the region stays extremely fragile, as climate change is currently characterized by a large variability, even if since the beginning of the 90s, one sees a  renewed increase of the lake’s surface, due to an intensification of the hydrological cycle and extreme rainfalls, which are getting more frequent. Hence, Lake Chad will not disappear, at least not in the near future, as it seemed to be said.

Dan Smith, Director, SIPRI: So it is a kind of perfect storm of climate-fragility risks in that area.


These pressures combined contribute to increased conflicts between fishers, herders and pastoralists. Large-scale violence, Islamist insurgencies, and forced migration are dramatic results. Some people perceive climate change and climate variability as very significant factors contributing to the conflicts, but there are no simple answers.

Mohammed Bila, Expert, Lake Chad Basin Commission: The main cause for all these conflicts, that has later become this big insurgency, is climate change. The drought that started 22-24 years ago, is what has affected the majority of the population in the Lake Chad basin. People, whose livelihood depends on this water, become vulnerable. This is putting pressure on people to move to where is water.

Mamadou Diop, Regional Representative, Action Against Hunger: Climate change is one factor. Climate change is not the only cause for the Lake Chad situation. The education system is completely destabilized, the health system completely collapsed. In fact, the health structures do not function anymore and neither do schools.


Donor nations in February 2017 pledged $672 million in emergency aid. But the actual help must be grounded in the reality of people’s lives. That means that humanitarians and peacebuilders have to take into account the specific risks to and roles of women, girls, boys and men. They have to factor in structural political exclusion and widespread corruption, and include current and future environmental problems.

Alexander Carius, Managing Director, adelphi: I just came back from a mission with the World Food Programme. The purpose of this mission was basically to get a better insight of the complexity of the problems around the Lake Chad basin. It was quite interesting as we had the chance to visit many IDP [internally displaced people] camps and talking to many humanitarian organizations. Couple of the IDP camps that we visited, it is basically women that ended up there, because the small villages were destroyed, totally burned down, men were killed, women then had to escape with their children, but what I realized is that there is a dual development crisis that they had to leave on the one hand as displaced people but the kind of suffering is to continue in these IDP camps.

Hinrich Thölken, Permanent Representative of Germany to FAO, WFP and IFAD: Most of the areas around Lake Chad Basin have been desperately poor for the last decades. Authorities, governments, the people have not looked after social systems. I think a lot needs to be invested in social security, social systems, education, gender training, to get some kind of perspective of stability. But it needs a long breath and patience for the international community. Humanitarian organizations come in. They do their job. They help the people. They try to manage the crisis. But this should always be done in close consultation and in coordination with the government of the respective country. Otherwise, there would be a crowding out-effect.


It is imperative to include all stakeholders in the policy process. adelphi therefore organized a meeting on Lake Chad with donors, climate scientists, and local practitioners who are engaged in civil society and speaking on behalf of women and youth.

Janani Vivekananda, Senior Project Manager, adelphi: What we have been able to do, with some success I think, is really get a 360° insight into some of the compound complex challenges because they are not just environmental challenges, it is not just about the water table shrinking.

Dan Smith, Director, SIPRI: One part of the solution or approaches to climate change and fragility is always governance. So how are the governments, both the national governments and the provincial governments, working on this? Are they including local people in the solutions as they develop them? Are they working together, are they cooperating?

Mohamed Yahya, Africa Regional Programme Coordinator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): To sustain peace in the Lake Chad region and all over Africa and to deny space for recruitment to terrorism in the continent, you really have to empower and give young people opportunities. You have to deal with the issues that are displacing them and affecting their livelihoods such as climate pressures and you really have to ensure that they are represented in the political processes.

Mohammed Bila, Expert, Lake Chad Basin Commission:How do we address it? At the level of the states, we have to reduce fragility. At the local level: dialogue between resource users, between different ethnic groups. We are trying to share the common resources, the common pool resources, equitably.


The security challenges are daunting. Diplomacy needs to consider the overall picture when planning or supporting interventions in the Lake Chad region.

Carl Skau, Ambassador and Security Council Coordinator, Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN: When Sweden was the President of the Security Council in January, we actually brought together a meeting on the Lake Chad region for the first time. One other result from the meeting was the Council going on the trip in early March [2017]. I joined that trip. It was a trip of [Permanent Representatives] on the Council, the 15 members. We went to Chad, to Cameroon, to Niger and to Nigeria. The more immediate measure is to strengthen the capacity in the Secretariat around the Secretary General to assess climate-related risks but also to suggest can be managed earlier on, before conflict erupts, as a matter of prevention.

Alexander Carius, Managing Director, adelphi: After we have submitted the report “A New Climate for Peace” to the G7 foreign ministers, they have agreed to set up a working group to think about what kind of action the G7 foreign ministers could take and they agreed on conducting a joint risk assessment on one region. The Lake Chad came up as the most interesting example where the most political need is. And this is actually what our mission is now contributing to, to find out what we can do. What we would like to do over the next year is really to conduct that study, based on field visits there, interviews, and help the organizations plus the international community in order to develop perspectives and mechanisms for intervention that could help the humanitarian organizations to move ahead from relief to recovery and resilient programmes."


The interviews were mainly conducted at the Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, co-hosted by SIPRI and the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from 4-5 May 2017. Directed by: Stella Schaller (adelphi). Produced by: Paul-Müller Hahl (Lichtbilder Filmproduktion). Editorial support: Janani Vivekananda, Stephan Wolters, Christopher Stolzenberg (adelphi).  We thank all participants for their valuable contributions.