The Lake Chad region experiences a multitude of crises: lack of employment and education opportunities, resource scarcity and violent conflict, all exacerbated by the effects of climate change, making the Lake Chad region Africa’s largest humanitarian emergency. At the margins of the Planetary Security Conference 2017, we spoke with the independent conflict adviser Chitra Nagarajan about the region’s future.
When we look ahead to creating an agenda for action for Lake Chad, I think we need to look at at least four things:
The first is increasing our knowledge about what is actually happening, and the links between changing climate dynamics and the conflict that we are seeing in the region. [see Lake Chad Knowledge Hub]
The second is talking to communities, helping them understand what is happening to them now and what will happen to them in the future when climate change kicks in, and the impacts on them and their livelihoods. We need to help them to think about how to adapt to profound changes.
The third is looking specifically at agriculture. We know that we are going to be seeing increasing variability when it comes to rainfall, when it comes to water levels of the lake and rivers. What does that mean in terms of the kinds of agriculture that we use? Particularly as more and more development programs are looking into how to support communities to rebuild their livelihoods, we need to know what climate change and conflict mean for the type of agriculture that we put in place.
And the fourth is looking ahead - to the problems in the future. One of the things that is really concerning me is the level of deforestation that we are seeing in the region, due to the military cutting down trees for security reasons, but also a higher number of people in a concentrated area, due to the mass displacement we have seen, going to search for firewood to be able to cook the food they need to eat. So what can we do now to prevent the desertification and the decreasing soil quality that will come about? We need to look at this dynamic now and find ways to intervene that address people’s need for firewood while also not causing problems for the future.
If we are looking ahead for a sustainable vision of the future, we really need to be supporting communities to adapt to the changing climate and address the links between the changing climate and conflict. But working with government institutions, with informal institutions in communities, to look at what climate change means for each of them, are also really important.
I think that not enough emphasis is placed on actually talking to the people who are most affected by changes to the climate. Sometimes we get stuck in policy circles, which are important, because they affect people’s lives, but we should also directly engage with the communities themselves. They have been seeing the changes over the years when it comes to climate. Hence, talking to them, explaining what is happening already, what is likely to happen in the future and then working with them to create the adaptation they need – I think that is what is needed now.
I think it has been really interesting for me to see the amount of political will and momentum that exists now in policy-making spaces – from NATO, to the UN, to national governments on the ground. The Planetary Security Conference is a testimony to that and shows the big difference between how it was five, ten years ago and today. That is to be lauded!
I think we need to make that next leap now to actually talking to the people most affected by change in climate and conflict about what that means for them now, and what it will mean for them in the future.
The interview was conducted by Stella Schaller (adelphi), at the Planetary Security Conference 2017 in The Hague from 12-13 December 2017.