ECC Platform Library


Lake Chad – Tackling Climate-Fragility Risks

30 August, 2017

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. It features interviews with local experts on Lake Chad, peacebuilders and representatives of international organizations, such as the Security Council and the World Food Programme. 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.

VideoClimate Diplomacy
Climate Change
Conflict Transformation

Sub-Saharan Africa


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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