Nigeria water stories: il Lago Ciad

The Crisis at Lake Chad

In 2014, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization stepped in with several humanitarian programs designed to provide support to those displaced and offer medium- to long-term solutions to the problem.

by Al hassan Cisse
19 June 2020
7 min read
by Al hassan Cisse
19 June 2020
7 min read

This article is taken from World Energy (WE) number 46 – Water stories

In every facet of human existence, water is the center of life. Whether in agricultural production or in the home, water is indispensable. In northeast Nigeria and communities in neighboring countries bordering the region, Lake Chad provides this precious natural resource and is a vital source of livelihoods for those who have come to depend on it. This has been the case since time immemorial, until a few decades ago, when communities around the Lake Chad basin began to face increasing challenges with regard to both water and its associated livelihoods.

Lake Chad’s water levels are dwindling as a consequence of climate change, its exploitation as an irrigation water source and population growth, further compounded by the instability produced by the various conflicts in the region. All of these factors affect the plight of the region’s inhabitants. Recently, the governments of the countries bordering the lake—Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria—came together to chart a way forward with the aim of revamping the lake. While this is ongoing, affected communities have continued to struggle with persistent water issues, even as violent conflicts and mass forced migrations took center stage.

The livelihoods of those living in communities in the Lake Chad region are anchored in crop production, artisanal fishing and other minor agro-related enterprises. These activities combined have not only generated conflict over water access but have also led to a significant decrease in water levels due to the unsustainable use of this resource.

UN efforts

In 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) began implementing humanitarian interventions to provide livelihood support to those displaced by the insurgency and other violent crises in the region. The protracted crisis and the challenges faced by affected communities required emergency support in all spheres including food, water and access to energy. FAO’s efforts focus on building resilience to address medium- to-long term development needs and on identifying durable solutions.

Given that agriculture is the primary vocation of millions of people in the Lake Chad basin including northeast Nigeria, declining water availability for both domestic and agricultural purposes has created extensive needs for the millions of people inhabiting the region.

One example is the establishment of water schemes in selected communities to serve the micro gardening and domestic needs of both displaced persons and host communities. The water schemes are powered with photovoltaic systems with a tank capacity between 25 to 50 m2. To ensure the water is clean, boreholes are equipped with reverse osmosis systems. The depth of the boreholes varies between 80 and 150 meters, depending on the geophysical survey report of the location. To ensure ease of access, water is piped to about three fetching points  with  eighteen faucets. During project implementation, the local authorities provided support towards training and sensitizing educators and host community members on water management and practices aimed at ensuring long-term sustainability.

The project addresses the states that make up the northeast—Adamawa, Yobe, Borno, Gombe, Bauchi and Taraba—and aims to contribute to access to water in identified Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps/host communities in different Local Government Areas (LGAs) where needs are highest. 

Credible partnerships for SDGs focused intervention

To address this problem the joint project implemented by FAO and Eni subsidiaries in Nigeria aims to provide Access to Water to IDPs from the region who have been displaced to all parts of the northeast and even as far as the nation’s capital.

Borne out of its commitment to address the needs of the over seven million people displaced by the Boko Haram conflict, the Government of Nigeria requested oil and gas companies operating in the country to support sustainable programs to assist affected communities. This is aligned with “The Buhari Plan on Rebuilding the North East,” which is the blueprint for comprehensive humanitarian relief and socio-economic stabilization in the region. 

The Access to Water project seeks to provide water to conflict affected populations and bring beneficiary communities closer to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including SDG1 (no poverty), SDG2 (zero hunger), SDG5 (clean water and sanitation) SDG13 (climate) and SDG17 (partnership for the goals). 

Within two years of signing a Collaboration Agreement in 2018, a total of sixteen water schemes were completed in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States. In FCT, all the completed five water schemes have been commissioned and handed over to beneficiaries. In Borno, the epicenter of the insurgency and the state most affected by the Lake Chad crisis,  the Bama water scheme has been commissioned and handed over to the beneficiaries. Biu, Chibok, Damboa and Gwoza are currently in use by communities but not formally handed over due to security reasons. In Adamawa state, five water schemes are currently operational and await commissioning and official handing over. In 2019, one water scheme was completed in Yobe state and provision of another 4 water schemes is planned in relevant communities in Yobe within the framework of the partnership between Eni and FAO.

In Borno state, more than 14,000 people have access to the boreholes in Bama, Biu, Chibok, Damboa and Gwoza. In Bama alone, more than 3,500 people are benefiting from the boreholes delivered through the Access to Water project. The intervention will improve sanitation and help restore the livelihoods of those affected by improving access to water for small-scale irrigation during the dry season. The intervention is geared towards ensuring sustainable food and nutrition security in the midst of drought.

Moreover, FAO, with the support of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), organized a series of stakeholder meetings on the “Development of Fisheries and Aquaculture Regional Policy and Strategy Framework” for member countries with the intention of providing an intra-regional framework to address the challenges and safeguard the livelihoods of communities in the region. One major outcome of these consultative meetings was a review of the report on the contribution of national fisheries and aquaculture policies and strategies to food and nutrition security and the charting of a path to protect artisanal fishing.

Fisher folks operating in the Lake Chad region are for the most part not protected by government policy. The absence of guidelines, regulations and the right framework exposes them to several challenges. The belief is that, once operational, the policy will protect artisanal fishing communities, enhance food and nutrition security, and boost the incomes of fisher folks in rural communities as well as their livelihoods.


The author: Al hassan Cisse

He is the FAO Representative ad interim in Nigeria. Previouly, he was the Head of FAO sub office in Northeast Nigeria, based in Maiduguri, Borno state. A role he still combines with the present responsibility. In the course of his career, he has worked for World Vision, Action Aid and Oxfam International in Senegal and other parts of West Africa.