In a world where governments, borders and legislation have everything to do with how our natural resources are treated, it’s cause for celebration when an important body of water in a dry area shared by four countries is recognized as worth protecting. On World Wetlands Day (February 2) 2010, the Cameroon Republic declared its portion of Lake Chad, Africa’s fourth largest lake, a wetland of international importance under the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Similar declarations were made by the other 3 countries that share Lake Chad as a boundary and water source: Niger and Chad in 2001 and Nigeria in 2008.
Cameroon’s declaration opens the way for Lake Chad to become a recognized transboundary international wetland, meaning the 4 countries can legally work together to protect and preserve the lake.
“Lake Chad’s inscription as only the 13th transboundary formally recognised wetland is highly significant as 11 of the areas so far declared are in Europe. Lake Chad joins the Saloum Delta shared by Senegal and Gambia as only the second such site in Africa.” –Denis Landenbergue, WWF International Wetlands Conservation Manager
The name “Chad” is a local word that means “large expanse of water” or “lake”. Since 1963, the lake has been shrinking dramatically due to dry conditions and intense irrigation. It is the main water source for more than 20 million people in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Lake Chad is consistently shallow, with its deepest point is only 34 feet deep, so its breadth can be affected visibly by irrigation and drought. In the 1960’s the area of Lake Chad was around 26,000 km². As of 2000 its areae was less than 1,500 km².
“Lake Chad is one of the largest and most important of the vital watering points for migratory birds from Europe and west Asia that each year cross the Sahara and it is also where many of them stop and stay for the winter.”– Denis Landenbergue
Formal recognition of the lake as a transboundary international wetland will empower the countries to jointly protect and manage the shared ecosystems and resources.