Lake Chad Basin

On the border of four countries – Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon – the Lake Chad region is at the heart of a web of interlocking crises: security, humanitarian and environmental.

Lake Chad Map
  • 8%

    of the African continent

  • 30M


  • >50%

    of the population live from agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing in the lake

  • (Source: OCHA)

The situation in the Lake Chad Basin is one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world.

  • Once one of Africa’s largest water reservoirs, Lake Chad used to be the source of subsistence for millions of people. But several environmental disasters, including droughts caused by climate change and poorly implemented dam and irrigation projects, have caused the lake to shrink by about 90% since the 1960s. During this time, the population of the basin has continued to grow. The resulting drastic reduction in livelihoods has led to increased migration, as well as conflicts between fishermen, farmers and herders.

    In this alarming context of economic and environmental deterioration, the terrorist group Boko Haram emerged in 2009 and has attracted or forcibly conscripted many young people. Over the past decade, the terrorist group’s insurgency has killed more than 36,000 people and displaced several million from their homes. Killings, abductions and human rights abuses have become widespread. Today, women and girls face a high risk of sexual violence. Infrastructure has been damaged, depriving millions of people of access to basic services - education and health - that were already scarce in the region before the conflict.

  • Nearly 10 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection*.

    The protracted crisis calls for a rapid transition to self-sufficiency. Displaced people do not need to wait for the conflict to be fully resolved before they can begin to rebuild their lives. In addition, coordination of humanitarian and development strategies must be maintained and strengthened.

    The United Nations stabilization strategy for the Lake Chad Basin requires a regional and cross-border approach for a holistic and structural response to development challenges. It comprises several pillars, including the prevention of violent extremism and peace building; the reintegration of people associated with Boko Haram; and the strengthening of resilience, through actions to reduce the effects of climate change and reboot the economy.

  • * Source: OCHA / May 2020

The humanitarian emergency

  • While the humanitarian response has been accelerated over the past four years, with many more people receiving assistance, the prevailing insecurity has also forced the suspension of some operations.

    Residents of the four Lake Chad countries have had to flee attacks and forced recruitment by Boko Haram, as well as military operations in their home villages, where strict security measures have made their daily life even more difficult. Insecurity and recurrent armed attacks continue to prevent the return of millions of displaced people to their homes. As of June 2020, there were 4.8 million people affected by displacement in the region.

  • 2,683,136


    Internally displaced persons.

  • 1,668,601


    People returned after having been internally displaced in their country of origin.

  • 213,625


    People returned after having flee to another country.

  • 254,112


    Refugees from another country.

  • (Source: Monthly regional displacement tracking matrix - IOM / June 2020)

  • Displaced persons site Arabic village, Ngala, Nigeria, June 2019 – UNDP / Malin Fezehai
  • Attah Modu

    Internally displaced in Borno State, Nigeria

    “Boko Haram controlled our village for four months before the army freed us. When we were in our village, there was no security. We were never at peace. One day it was your neighbour who was killed, another day it could be your friend.”

    The state of Borno in Nigeria is the epicentre of the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin. The northern part of the country accounts for 78% of the region’s internally displaced persons and refugees. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is responsible for the humanitarian hub in the northeast of the country.

  • Hawa Ibrahim

    Refugee in Dar es Salaam camp in Baga Sola, Chad

    “Since we set up the dialogue committee, we have resolved several conflicts, including marital conflicts, conflicts with new arrivals or conflicts between refugees and local populations, particularly over access to land.”

    Hawa is originally from Niger and her husband is a fisherman. The couple moved to the Nigeria side of Lake Chad so he could continue to work. They lived in Nigeria for five years until 2014, when their village was attacked by Boko Haram. They were forced to flee to Chad, where they found refuge in the Dar es Salaam camp in Baga Sola. Here, Hawa became a member of the dialogue committee, which resolves conflicts between host communities and refugees, an initiative supported by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

  • Dar es Salaam IDP and refugee site, Baga Sola, Lac region, Chad, February 2019 – UNDP Chad / Aurélia Rusek

Crisis prevention

  • Boko Haram has had a huge negative impact on the youth of the region, who are exposed to religious brainwashing, conscription and forced recruitment that leads them to join the ranks of these violent extremist groups. Confidence in administrative and traditional authorities has also eroded, leading to some young people to become radicalized.

  • Alhady Abali

    Chairman of Guitté Vigilance Committee in Chad

    “We have benefited from many trainings during which we learned how to raise awareness among young people against violent extremism, how to resolve conflicts, how to use the early warning system. We also learned how to accept those who left with Boko Haram and wish to return to their communities. We need to reintegrate them so they can live with us.”

    Key players in the fight against Boko Haram, the vigilance committees inform the authorities about the presence of suspicious people in villages. In Chad, community actors, law enforcement agencies, cross-border communities, women’s groups and members of vigilance committees have been trained in the detection and prevention of radicalization, inter-community dialogue and conflict management by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

  • Bernadette Weyme

    Young Ambassador for Peace in Meme, Cameroon

    “I wish for peace to return to our city. In Meme, three people were killed in Boko Haram suicide bombings in one day in 2018. That day, I was on my way to the market when my father called me and told me to run. I am so afraid that such attacks could come back to our city. Here we have a lot of internally displaced people. Some of them come to take water from our well and sometimes we don’t have enough water for our family, so we have to walk to the backwater and it’s very far. After this training, I would like to organize peace talks about this water problem. If we give water to the people, we give peace.”

    The joint project on “Youth and Stabilization for Peace and Security” is implemented by UNFPA, UNICEF and UNDP in the Far North region of Cameroon. The project aims to promote a culture of tolerance and “living together”; to facilitate the socio-economic reintegration of young people and to improve the performance of students in Koranic schools.

  • Maroua, Far North region, Cameroon, March 2020 – UNFPA / UNICEF / UNDP / Aurélia Rusek

Reintegration of former Boko Haram associates


  • Since 2016, Chad, like the other countries of the Lake Chad Basin, has seen the voluntary return of Chadians who left willingly or by force to join the ranks of Boko Haram in neighbouring countries. Some have returned to their villages under the supervision of traditional authorities, others have been grouped together in different sites. The Koulkime site hosts nearly 300 former members of Boko Haram under the supervision of the military.

  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Chad is working closely with national institutions to make the legal framework more responsive to the dynamics of violent extremism and to international human rights provisions. For the first time in February 2019, ten former Boko Haram associates testified in public at an UNDP-supported reconciliation forum.

  • Koulkimé, Lac region, Chad, February 2019
UNDP Chad / Aurélia Rusek
  • Idriss Ali

    Former member of Boko Haram, Koulkimé 3 site in Chad

    “I stayed with Boko Haram for three years. A lot of things happened there. At first we thought it was the right way, but then we realized it wasn’t right. If we had known they were lying to us, we wouldn’t have gone there. That’s why I came back to Chad. Today, we live mainly from fishing activities. If we catch enough fish, we smoke them. Then we sell it at the market. That’s our way of life, we don’t have anything else.”

    “This reconciliation forum was really beneficial to me in helping me to reintegrate back to my friends and community. We have been very well received. Before we were in the bush. We were on our own. Now people are interested in us. If I could, I would go abroad to tell my story. I would make people aware not only here in Chad but also everywhere to advise young people not to join Boko Haram.”

Resilience and protection of the lake


  • The project “Biosphere and Heritage of lake Chad” (BIOPALT) implemented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) aims to safeguard Lake Chad’s biodiversity and ecosystem, which is threatened with extinction.

  • The project includes a wide range of activities, from the establishment of an early warning system for droughts and floods to the restoration of degraded ecosystems, such as spawning grounds, supporting the growth of spirulina and the preservation of the Kouri breed of cow. This is done with particular attention to income-generating activities through the promotion of a green economy and the conservation of the basin’s natural resources.

  • Lake Chad, October 2019 – UNESCO
  • Spirulina

    The green economy of the lake

    Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) is a blue-green algae rich in protein and vitamins, particularly interesting for combating malnutrition. Originally from Lake Chad where it has been used by the Kanem women for thousands of years, it is now produced easily and on a large scale in various countries for food and cosmetic purposes. The BIOPALT project aims to support local populations in their green economy projects about the production of spirulina, and in a pilot project for the ecological rehabilitation of a spirulina production place, in order to sustainably develop the activity of these women and improve their income. This woman said she hopes to be able to send her grandchildren to school with this additional income.

“If we respond appropriately to grievances and end the spiral of insecurity, forced displacements and conflict, the situation in the Lake Chad Basin can be stabilized, and the foundations of recovery and development established.”

Ahunna Eziakonwa
Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).