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Fostering development through small-scale dams in Lake Chad

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Photo credit: World Bank Photo credit: World Bank

This summer, we welcomed 20 students and faculty from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to our first WBxHBCU Summer Institute. The Institute is part of an agreement with six HBCUs throughout the U.S.—Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Howard University, Jackson State University, Tennessee State University, and Xavier University of Louisiana—to promote the sharing of knowledge and talent between us.

After a week of activities designed to facilitate a more in-depth understanding of the Bank’s work, knowledge, and opportunities, we invited the students to weigh in on the development challenge we face every day:  What do you think is the key to ending poverty and promoting sustainable shared prosperity? 

The following blog post by Mustapha Olawuni, a Tennessee State University student, provides a fresh perspective on development solutions for the Lake Chad region of West Africa. His thoughtful approach, supported by faculty members Matthew Blair and Arlene Nicholas-Phillips, demonstrates what we envision from this collaboration, and has left us excited about the immense potential of our ongoing partnership.  

~ Diariétou Gaye, VP of World Bank People and Culture  


Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relies on the strength of partnership among development institutions, private sector, government political will and citizen participation. The interwoven relationship between the 17 SDGs makes a single approach to achieving the goals almost impossible.  We have seen this in person as farm owners in Nigeria, Colombia, and Trinidad. In Valle Department, Colombia, Matthew grows coffee that must be replanted with new varieties to resist hotter temperatures and rust disease. In Osun state, Nigeria, Mustapha grew cocoa, plantain, corn and cassava for sale in regional markets funding his studies at University of Ibadan for bachelor’s degree and Master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies. In Trinidad, Arlene acquired sustainable agriculture practice from her grandfather, built on the years of experience to support youth and women groups in precision farming, hydroponic and promotes healthy living through community farming by maximizing her balcony for potted herb and vegetable garden. 

Climate change is an especially important driver of conflict and insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) despite the continent contributing less greenhouse emissions than other regions in the world.  In the Lake Chad region, the freshwater body of Lake Chad, which serves about 20 million to 30 million people, is drying rapidly by more than 90% since 1960. This has led to forced migration and conflict in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. Meanwhile, flooding in Central and Southern Nigeria has reduced housing stock and displaced many residents.  

Lake Chad is a major water source for irrigation and other farming activities in the region. In Nigeria, despite the abundant human and natural resources, the shrinking of Lake Chad contributes to growing conflict in northern Nigeria. This is directly connected to conflict between farmers and herders who drive their cattle southward to other regions in search of green pasture for their livestock. According to UNHCR, of the 5 million people in Africa directly affected by flooding in 2021, 3.5 million were Nigerians.  


Lake Chad
Photo: World Bank.


After oil, Nigeria relies on agriculture to contribute about 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) and about 70% of the country’s employment opportunities for the growing population. There is a nexus between peace and climate action in Nigeria. 

Food security has been a priority for global development for many years, and with good reason: in 2017, around 821 million people were food insecure, and today, the number has not dropped significantly. Developing countries in SSA are faced with food and nutrition crises due to climate change that cause flooding, heatwave shocks, storms, and fluctuation in rainfall patterns that limit agriculture. Inadequate access to farming technologies, overreliance on rain-fed farming systems and subsistence practices with climate change led to declines in food production. These have implications on Nigeria's agricultural sector, with imports between 2016 and 2019 at N3.35 trillion—four times the country's total agricultural export of N803 billion during the same period. Yet, agriculture contributed to 22.35% of the overall GDP between January and March 2021

According to a report by Valerie Hickey, World Bank Global Director for Environment, and the Ocean, 40% of all conflict since World War II was caused by, or made worse by, nature's degradation, which is now leading to reversing decades of development gains. Regional cooperation is needed to achieve peace through strong political will by state actors.  Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu, reiterated his commitment to recharge Lake Chad. This is a long-term plan which requires other short-term strategies to reduce the burden of climate change on the citizens, especially those targeted at livelihood and the economy. 

From Sudan to Ethiopia and across the Sub Saharan, conflict has been the main impediment to development. Kabir Adamu, security expert at Beacon Intel, stated “for government efforts to decrease the ability of non-state actors to challenge the supremacy of the use of force by the state to be sustainable, the Federal and State Governments need to strengthen collaboration for restoration of social order by addressing the root causes of challenges of socio-economic grievances, unemployment, and climate change effects, as well as the proliferation of small arms and light weapons”. Terrorist organizations target soft spots in communities where local idle and unemployed youths can be easily recruited for small gains, especially meeting the immediate need of food and shelter. 

The implementation of small dams, for flood control, aquifer recharge, farm level irrigation projects and hydro-electric capabilities, would be appropriate technology for funding by the World Bank in West Africa.  This would be similar to the successful World Bank-funded projects implementing hydro-electric dams in Afghanistan designed to improve irrigation, and providing electricity to various regions of the country. Available data from International Organization for Migration, World Bank and United Nations indicated that Internally Displaced People in the Chad Basin is more than 3 million while refugees are more than 320,000. Acute childhood malnutrition affects half a million people, and more than 11 million people in Chad are in need of emergency assistance. If small-scale dams were implemented, millions of people in the Lake Chad region could be served in local communities faced with the impact of climate change. 


Mustapha Olawuni

Graduate student at Tennessee State University in Nashville

Matthew W. Blair

Professor at Tennessee State University in Nashville

Arlene Nicholas-Phillips

Higher Education Executive Administrator

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