To prevent the disappearance of Lake Chad, an old controversial project exhumed

Avoiding the disappearance of Lake Chad: the urgency is very real, and to face it, experts gathered at his bedside exhumed Transaqua, a megaproject imagined in the 80s and controversial, which consists of filling the immense Dried oasis

The idea, particularly ambitious, is to dig a 2.600 km canal from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), then across the Central African Republic, to the freshwater lake.

Transaqua has been for the last three days at the heart of a conference organized by the Nigerian government and Unesco, which brought together dozens of experts and diplomats in Abuja.

Lake Chad – Straddling Cameroon, Niger , Nigeria and Chad – has for some years been synonymous with Boko Haram, whose jihadist insurgency ravaged the region.

But climate change and the very poor management of water resources have caused a considerable decline. The lake has lost 90% of its surface area in 40 years.

The 40 million people living around and on the lake are among the poorest in the world, the UN estimates that a quarter of them need

The jihadi group took advantage of this vulnerability to recruit thousands of farmers and fishermen cut off from their livelihoods and set up rear bases on the islands of the lake.

– ' Unacceptable '-

 Fishermen prepare their nets on Lake Chad on March 30, 2015, near the village of Guite, Chad. (AFP / Archives - PHILIPPE DESMAZES)

Fishermen prepare their nets on Lake Chad on March 30, 2015, near the village of Guite, Chad. (AFP / Archives – PHILIPPE DESMAZES)

The Transaqua project, devised in 1982 by the Italian consulting and engineering firm Bonifica, involves immense technical and financial challenges, and never came into being. [19659002ButthearrivalofaChinesepartnerthePowerConstructionCorporationofChina(PowerChina)whichsignedanagreementin2017withthecompanybehindtheprojecthasrecentlyrevivedhopesandcriticismaroundtheproject

For its supporters, Transaqua is the only way to cope with the current humanitarian and environmental crisis.

"The transfer of water between the different basins (hydrographic) is not an option but a necessity" said Sanusi Abdullahi, executive secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, which oversees the use of water and natural resources.

"We are faced with the possibility that Lake Chad will disappear and it would be catastrophic for the whole the African continent. "

Little information has filtered out about the agreement that binds the Italian firm today to the giant PowerChina, except that the latter was commissioned to conduct a feasibility study.

" We We are working on projects here and we want to take on social responsibility, "PowerChina engineer Ziping Huang said.

– Duty of Cooperation –

But the project, which by one estimate could cost up to $ 14 billion dollars (11.5 billion euros), raises strong resistance in Kinshasa.

The transfer of Congolese waters to Lake Chad is "unacceptable", responded to the phone the senator of an opposition party, Modeste Mutinga, author of the book "The water war at the door of the DRC." ​​

This would amount to "disrupting the flow of the Congo River with consequences for ecosystems in the DRC," he explained. AFP. "We must not seek to solve a problem in a corner and create here in DR Congo."

Same reaction in the MP for the majority Bavon N'Sa Mputu Elima, former Minister of the Environment, for whom "We must solve the problems in the Lake Chad Basin: the misuse of water by Chadian farmers, increase the water quality of the rivers that feed this lake with water by the maintenance of the banks."

 A Chadian police boat patrols Lake Chad, straddling Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad on January 25, 2015. (AFP / Archives - SIA KAMBOU)

A Chadian police patrol boat on Lake Chad, straddling Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad, on January 25, 2015. (AFP / Archives – SIA KAMBOU)

The technical and security challenges involved in a project like Transaqua are also discouraging. The gigantic canal should cross several countries with changing geography and entangled in chronic instability.

In addition to the Boko Haram fighters established around Lake Chad, the Central African Republic, in particular, is devastated by years of war and the abuses of groups armed forces that control vast areas.

And even if time is running out at the rate at which the waters of the lake are disappearing, Ziping Huang, of PowerChina, recognizes that launching such a project with the security situation that prevails today in the The region is "beyond the imagination of our company."

Remains another difficulty: to co-operate the four countries bordering the lake. "These countries must cooperate if they want to face these transnational risks, there is simply no other way to do it," said Florian Krampe, of the Institute's climate change and risk program. Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

"The question is, are the institutions ready?"