• In 50 years Lake Chad has shrunk to 10th its size; climate change a factor
  • Lake vital for indigenous communities in one of the world's poorest countries
  • Locals use ancestral knowledge to overcome problems of scarce resources

When Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim was a child, Lake Chad in her home country spanned 10,000 km2. These days it’s around 1,200 km2.

Climate change, rising populations and agriculture mean one of Africa’s largest water sources is now a tenth of the size it was in the 1960s.

From the Mbororo pastoralist community, Ibrahim is an expert in how indigenous peoples and particularly women adapt to climate change. She wants to highlight the impact a warming planet is having on communities across Africa.

“Climate change is real and it's not about our future, it's about our present,” she told the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit this year. “It's the issue of survival. It's not the issue of economy or power, it's the issue of life of hundreds of millions of people that depend on it.

“We need solutions, we don't have time. It's now time for action and immediate action for those peoples who are getting impacted who didn't create this climate change.”

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Shrinking for 50 years

Lake Chad is in the Sahel, the vast semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert. The area is particularly sensitive to drought, and historically the lake has fluctuated dramatically in size during prolonged dry periods. But data from NASA Earth Observatory and others demonstrate the extent it has declined in the last half century.

Images show the gradually shrinking of Lake Chad.
The disappearing water in Lake Chad.
Image: Shoring Up Stability

More than 30 million people rely on freshwater from the lake. It also supports fishing, irrigation and economic activity both in Chad and Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger. But as the lake shrinks communities are struggling and there is competition for the dwindling resource.

In some communities men have to seek work in bigger cities during dry seasons when the lake can no longer sustain them. Internal migration is increasing, as well as people looking further afield to places such as Europe for work.

The women and children left behind have to fill the gaps and are forced to innovate to maintain food security.

The climate conflict trap.
Climate change has been linked to political instability and unrest.
Image: Shoring Up Stability

Across the Sahel, many farmers are reviving an old technique known as zai. They dig pits to catch rainwater, then add compost and plant seeds. The technique concentrates nutrients and can boost crop yields by up to 500%.

The price of global warming on Africa

Among the poorest nations in the world, Chad is already struggling with poverty and frequent conflict. Sixty-two percent of the population are destitute, according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index, and most of the country relies on subsistence farming. Climate change adds to existing political and economic instability, driving further food insecurity.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that Africa will feel the effects of temperature rise more keenly than most. Longer and more severe heat waves will have a profound impact on crop yields and the frequency of droughts.

“Around the world we have all these young people going out on the street asking for justice asking to save their futures,” said Ibrahim, “But I'm going to tell you, the young people in my community are asking for their present.”