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Dispatches from the frontlines of a conflict complicated by climate change

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Development and Peace — Caritas Canada is proud to announce the release of Boiling Over: Global Warming, Hunger and Violence in the Lake Chad Basin, a landmark report produced by its Nigerian partner, Social Action.

The report on the conflict and socioeconomic turmoil in the Lake Chad basin draws on insights from displaced persons, activists, journalists, academics and government officials. It analyses causal and contributory factors, including climate change, and explores potential solutions. It is the product of three years of research undertaken by Social Action in the course of its monitoring, advocacy and ecological justice work supported by Development and Peace.

A shrinking lake

Lake Chad was once one of Africa’s largest freshwater bodies. From a peak of about 26,000 km2, its surface area has now shrunk to under 1,500 km2. While its expanse has varied historically, the shrinkage has been accelerating in recent years, likely largely because of climate change. The Boiling Over report exposes how the lake’s depletion is exacerbating socioeconomic and political strife in the four countries that constitute its basin — Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria.

A rising tide of violence

The Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, now entrenched in the entire Lake Chad basin, has already claimed 20,000 lives. It is now increasing the displacement of people who were already uprooted by ill-conceived dam projects and poverty.

The drying up of Lake Chad is benefiting Boko Haram in several ways. Driven to conflict by competition for the lake’s increasingly scarce waters, poor fisherfolk and pastoralists are becoming susceptible the allure of extremism. The now-dry lakebed is also making it easier for the insurgents to cross borders to spread terror, recruit hard-pressed youths and evade capture.

Routinely raped, sexually enslaved, widowed and left to fend for large families in circumstances of displacement and destitution, women are among the most vulnerable victims of the situation.

A call to action

Dr. Isaac Asume Osuoka, director of Social Action, who co-authored the Boiling Over report, says, “As a country reputed for its leadership on climate change and human rights issues, Canada can help redress the situation.” Development and Peace echoes his call for the Government of Canada to increase international aid for measures that help communities in the Global South adapt to climate change; to promote the recognition and protection of human rights in the Lake Chad region; and to support programs that build local civil society capacities.

A chance to understand

At a series of public events in Ontario, Canadians have the unique opportunity to learn about the report and what went into its production directly from Dr. Osuoka. He will be accompanied by Ms. Victoria Filibus, who, since losing her husband to a Boko Haram attack, has been living in penury with her nine children in a refugee camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Her testimony will reveal the human cost of the complex conflict in the Lake Chad Basin.