Monday, June 18, 2007
Climate change and diminishing desert resources
The dwindling water supply at Lake Chad, Chad
"The white man will brings us water. Only, the white man has power."

I sat there stunned as I listened to the words of 45-year-old Maloum Mahamat. He's the chief of a tiny fishing village on the shores of what is left of Lake Chad in Central Africa. Mahamat is possibly the last in a long line of generations of fishermen. I press him on what can be done to help his people adapt to the receding water. He has two answers. The white man will come fix it and God will do what he must. In the 10 days our team spent following the shorelines of what's left of Lake Chad, we heard those two responses time and time again.

Whether it's on television or words, the story of Lake Chad is tough to tell. In the 1960s, Lake Chad was one of the world's largest lakes. At its greatest levels in modern history, it was as if the entire state of Vermont was covered in water -- simply enormous. Today, Lake Chad is one-tenth of its former size. Yes, it's shrunk by 90 percent in the last 40 years. The lake has always been shallow. Even at its deepest, it never measured more than 30 feet deep. Now its greatest depths measure only 3 feet to 6 feet.

The waters are receding and are becoming shallower. There are fewer fish in species, number and size. Fishermen need to adapt and find new ways to make a living. Less water means less vegetation. Less vegetation creates more sand dunes. Sand dunes lead to even less precipitation. It's an interconnected cycle. Tragically, as populations increase and resources become scarce, more people rely on the lake for sustenance than ever before, even as it has less and less to offer.

So, why is all this happening? The United Nations Environment Programme says that about half of the lake's decrease is attributable to human water use such as inefficient damming and irrigation methods. The other half of the shrinkage is due to shifting climate patterns. Anada Tiega of the Lake Chad Basin Commission blames climate change for 50 to 75 percent of the water's disappearance.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta and I, along with our crew, traveled to Africa to find out just how much of the lake's disappearance was due to climate change and global warming. It's definitely hard to discern.

The truth is that Lake Chad has waxed and waned before. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the lake has probably dried out about a half-dozen times in the last 1,000 years. Scientists are confident that Lake Chad's waters will one day return, but that day probably will not be in this lifetime.

What effect do you think climate change has had on Lake Chad, if any? If Lake Chad naturally disappears and returns over geological time, does it matter what we do in the present. Do you believe in or care about climate change whether the effects are felt in Africa or elsewhere? Do you want to learn more about climate change, global warming and human health?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports from Lake Chad on climate change and the shrinking resources of the desert, tonight on "Anderson Cooper 360," 10 p.m. ET
Yes, I think climate change has a lot to do with the shrink of Lake Chad, and I do also care about the effects that climate change is leaving around the world. I do understand there are some changes that occurr naturally, but I also understand, that there are changes that are due to human acts. That's why I think we all should be responsable for our acts, and also we should care not only for what's going on in our back yard, but for what's going on in everybody's back yard (Africa-our mother land).

Andrea O.
Miami, FL
I do beleive that climate change has affected pretty much everything, from the bizarre winter (snowing in New Jersey in APRIL?!) to the excessively hot summers in places that didn't used to be hot. However, I think that it's sunspots (and those lovely bursts the sun has!) that is also contributing to the deterioration of the ozone around the earth's poles.

If Lake Chad naturally disappears... what do we do? Help drill more wells? Stockpile water to help them? I don't really know. Of course I'm concerned with any part of the world- there are PEOPLE in it, right?

And I would not miss anything about science, health, or the world! I'm looking forward to this, and YAY! I get to see Dr. Gupta tonight! Great :)
Lake Chad may have receeded a dozen times before in the last 1000 years, but how often in a 40 year period?

Have you been to Salt Lake in Utah? It has receeded 80 percent at least in 40 years and will be gone in a few years. I can think of a dozen lakes in California here that are paltry compared to my childhood memories.

There is a massive problem occuring around us and its not SUNSPOTS. If you've ever put a blanket over your head and felt it get hot you know what it is. It's too much carbon in the air. If we dont do something IMMEDIATELY, we will be fighting wars over water not oil.
I feel sorry for them. I don't think the white man or anyone else will fix anything until their own wells have run dry. The population of earth has grown so large that at this time in history, we are the force of nature that dries lakes and makes the seas rise. The white man or developed nations are the biggest problem with the United States being the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the world. If things are going to change for Africa and the world, the U.S must lead be enacting law that manages their consumption and provides green alternatives.
I saw Dr Sanjey's reports on AC360. I feel sad to hear that African countries have been much affected by global warming in spite of less carbon dioxide release. People, especially in developed countries, have to care about the future of the earth. I think your team did a great job.

Mamie, Japan
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