The FAO reported that Lake Chad water levels have fallen to historically low levels since 1960. While this fall is linked, in part, to changes in weather and precipitation frequency, it is also due to poor management stemming from regional conflict. Poor irrigation practices and other mismanagement have caused the water levels to drop 90% since 1960.
Photo: Espen Røst / Bistandsaktuelt – newspaper on aid and development (via Flickr)
While the region has adapted in part to these changes, the full cost of these water shortages has made this an emerging catastrophe. At this point, in one of the more volatile regions in the world, a region that has been gripped by extremists like Boko Haram, is suffering from a lack of food and water. This man-made and nature-made drought threatens to put 50,000 into famine, with another 7,000,000 people on the brink of famine. That's the equivalent of the entire state of Arizona or Massachusetts going hungry.
It is hard to know whether water shortages are fomenting conflict or if conflict is fomenting water shortages. But the best answer is: both are true. Water shortages increase food stress, unhappiness, poor hygiene, and migration. Conflict has the same effect. But under the fog of conflict, as government control and rule of law are set aside, water use becomes virtually unregulated. The only checks and balances exist in the specific communities, who also compete for resources against other communities in their countries and in other countries.
But the loss of life on the horizon will be devastating for a region that has faced conflict and pain for decades. The truth is, water famine poses a significant threat to international peace and security. It must be treated that way.