Lake drying and livelihood dynamics in Lake Chad: unravelling the mechanisms, contexts and responses

This article examines lake drying and livelihood dynamics in the context of multiple stressors through a case study of the “Small Lake Chad” in the Republic of Chad. Livelihoods research in regions experiencing persistent lake water fluctuations has largely focused on the well-being and security of lakeshore dwellers. Little is known about the mechanisms through which lake drying shapes livelihood drawbacks and opportunities, and whether locally evolved responses are enhancing livelihoods. Here we address these gaps using empirical, mixed-methods field research couched within the framework of livelihoods and human well-being contexts. The analysis demonstrates that limited opportunities outside agriculture, the influx of mixed ethnic migrants and the increasing spate of violence all enhance livelihood challenges. Livelihood opportunities centre on the renewal effects of seasonal flood pulses on lake waters and the learning opportunities triggered by past droughts. Although drying has spurred new adaptive behaviours predicated on seasonality, traditional predictive factors and the availability of assets, responses have remained largely reactive. The article points to where lake drying fits amongst changes in the wider socio-economic landscape in which people live, and suggests that awareness of the particularities of the mechanisms that connect lake drying to livelihoods can offer insights into the ways local people might be assisted by governments and development actors.

Ambio, 45, 781-795.