By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame
5 Oct 2010, YAOUNDE, Cameroon - Yaounde's Briketteri neighbourhood , home to Muslim traders in textiles and beef, is seeing a surge of climate migrants - farmers and fishermen fleeing fast-drying Lake Chad to the north.
Aisha Alim 42, a former Lake Chad farmer, now earns a meager leaving selling fried peanuts in Briketteri after watching his farmland near Lake Chad run out of water.
"It has been a bitter reality to swallow and a battle for survival," he said. "The desert keeps encroaching on farmland as the water recedes and this makes it difficult for farming activity to thrive. I used to grow onions, peppers and maize but my farming area turned dry and I had no choice except to relocate."
Mahmadou Bello, 52, who once fished in Lake Chad, similarly brought his wife and six children to Cameroon's capital two years ago when the lake could no longer provide enough fish.
"We used to make enough money as fishermen by the shores of the lake and my wife was also involved in fish smoking because there was enough catch," he said. Now, however, he has had to take up work as a butcher to support his family, he said.
Lake Chad, a large shallow freshwater lake that borders Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, has shrunk in size by as much as 90 percent over the last four decades, forcing a growing number of farmers, fishermen and herders who depend on it to seek new livelihoods elsewhere.
A recent study by NASA and the German Aerospace Centre blames climate change - particularly more erratic rainfall - and human activity - including population hikes, overgrazing and overuse of lake water for irrigation - for the gradual disappearance of one of Africa's biggest lakes.
The study warns that urgent action is needed by members of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), charged with overseeing the water body, to avoid further dramatic shrinking of the lake, which provides water or livelihoods for more than 20 million people in the region.
FEAR OF POTENTIAL CONFLICTS
At the last World Food Security Summit in Rome, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi sounded a warning on the dangers associated with Lake Chad's decline, saying the loss of water might well spur serious conflict in the region.
"Something has to be done to save Lake Chad from the advancing desert. If it dries up it will be a real danger not only to the basin population but to the entire African continent that depends on the fish and agricultural products from the area," he argued.
Already there are growing conflicts among herders scrambling for limited pasture and fishermen fighting over declining stocks of fish, as well as confrontations - including some violent clashes - between migrating herders and fishermen and the people already living in the new communities where the migrants settle.
"In Nigeria and Cameroon, cattle herder migrants who move southward end up competing for land resources with host communities. This has led to some of the recent conflicts between herders and farming communities in northeastern Nigeria and the Adamawa region of Cameroon," a report by the Lake Chad Basin Commission said.
Water shortages are already causing a serious shortage of animal feed in the Lake Chad region, resulting in cattle deaths and plummeting livestock production, the report said.
On the whole, average household income in the region has fallen by more than half in recent years, the study said, and fish catches that hit 140 metric tons a year in the 1960s and 1970s have now fallen to below 80,000 metric tons a year.
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