Executive Intelligence Review
This article appears in the December 5, 2014 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

EIR Brings Transaqua Plan,
BRICS to Lake Chad Event

by Lawrence Freeman and Donielle DeToy

[PDF version of this article]

Dec. 1—For more than 30 years, the gigantic water project known as “Transaqua,” which would refill the shrinking Lake Chad, revitalizing a body of water on which 40 million Africans depend, has been placed before all international development agencies as well as the nations of the region. Yet, over all this time, not one feasibility study has been carried out. The de facto financial diktat against great projects, exercised through the international financial institutions and the mis-named environmentalist movement, has taken it off the agenda.

Fortunately, in the context of the growing optimism created by the BRICS nations, which have vowed to fund huge infrastructure projects in the developing world, that boycott is beginning to be broken.

On Nov. 17-18, the inaugural meeting of the International Scientific Committee, established to advise the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC),[1] was held at its headquarters in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. EIR’s Lawrence Freeman[2] and Italian engineer Dr. Marcello Vichi, intervened to expand the prevailing limited view concerning the urgent strategic necessity for refurbishing Lake Chad.

Dr. Vichi, who drafted the original proposal in the late 1970s for the great Transaqua water infrastructure project, which would transfer a substantial amount of water from the super-moist Congo River Basin to the arid Chad River Basin—published under the title “Transaqua: An Idea for the Sahel”—wrote a letter, delivered to members of the committee, provocatively challenging them to take up the fight for Transaqua (see below). Noting that the project has been slandered as “utopian” and “megalomaniacal,” Vichi said: “Allow yourself one moment of megalomania. Do it in the interest of your children and grandchildren.”

The executive secretary of the LCBC, engineer Sanusi Imran Abdullahi, also spoke on both days of the session on the importance of studying the Transaqua proposal (see below), and requested that the International Scientific Committee respond to Dr. Vichi’s letter.

The current rationale on how to prevent Lake Chad from drying up even further is dominated by simplistic practicality about conservation and managing the meager existing waters of the lake and its tributaries. Freeman challenged the other participants to reject the prevailing zero-growth mentality, and instead think about the potential that a great infrastructure project like Transaqua would have in transforming the economies and environment of all the countries involved, from the Great Lakes Region to the Sahel. He also encouraged the commission to look for collaboration with the BRICS and its New Development Bank, as the West has no interest in funding infrastructure projects for Africa.

Will Lake Chad Disappear?

Lake Chad is a freshwater lake located 13° latitude north and 14° longitude east in the Sahel. The total drainage area of the hydrographic basin is almost 2.4 million km2, about one-eighth of the land area of the African continent. The hydrologic basin, which encompasses all the tributaries, is 967,000 km2, an area larger than the states of New York, Virginia, and Texas combined.

It is the fourth-largest lake in Africa, behind lakes Victoria, Tanganyika, and Nyassa (Malawi), but is extremely shallow, from as low as 1 m to a maximum of 12 m, and suffers from a severe loss of water through evaporation due to the hot, dry climate.

Lake Chad, which is thought to be the remnant of an inland sea that existed 13,000 years ago, is reported to have been as large as 1 million km2, in 6500 B.C. after the last glacier melt, and 400,000 km2 in 4000 B.C. It was considered to be one of the largest lakes in the world, but since 1963, has shrunk by 90%, from a surface area of 25,000 km2. While many estimate today’s size of the lake, which consists of northern and southern pools of water separated by large sand dunes called the Great Barrier, at less than 2,000 km2, Mohammed Bila, a geologist who has been examining surface waters through remote sensing for the LCBC since 2004, believes that due to heavy rains in 2012, the lake may now be as large as 4,500 km2, with some water in the northern pool for the first time in many years.

The measurements of the lake region are done in collaboration with NASA’s MODAS satellite which provides 250-km resolution images of the basin four times a day, and Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), which measures rainfall and groundwater. Tracking life activities on the lake and surrounding basin area is also done in coordination with Germany’s Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GmbH).

Rainfall varies greatly from the northern portion of the Lake Chad Basin in the Sahara Desert, with as little as 100 m, to as much as 1,000 m at the southern edge—the Sudanian zone. Most significant has been the decrease in rainfall in the Sahelian zone, the central and largest portion of the basin, as well as a decrease in water flowing into the lake from its major tributary.

The Chari River, flowing from the Central Africa Republic and the Logone River from Cameroon, join at N’Djamena, becoming the largest tributary, providing 90% of the lake’s water, but its volume has decreased from 40 km3 to between 21-25 km3. The Komadougu-Yobe tributaries from Nigeria provide only a small portion of water flow into the lake

Bila attributes the decrease in rain in the Lake Chad Basin to the southerly movement of the tropical conversion zone, which is where the cold air from Europe in the north meets the warm air from southern Africa, producing rain.

What Causes the Lake To Shrink?

There are unconfirmed reports that the lake had disappeared and then reappeared thousands of years ago, and that as recently as the first half of the 16th Century, the lake almost completely dried up, demonstrating that the causes for the contraction of the lake are not anthropomorphic. However, we do not yet understand precisely the complex causation of the lake’s shrinkage. There are four layers of aquifers under the lake at varying depths: the Quaternary, closest to the surface, followed by the Pliocene, Continental Terminal, and Cretaceous. It is also unclear what type of interaction, if any, there may be between the aquifers under Lake Chad and the large Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System that spreads throughout Sudan, Chad, Libya, and Egypt.

Although there has been an increase in rainfall over the last 14 years, if there are more severe droughts like those of 1973 and 1984, the lake will dry up without human-engineered water transfer.

Over 40 million Africans on the Lake Chad shoreline and its surrounding basin are directly dependent on its water. As the lake has diminished in area and depth over the last 50 years, the population has been forced to migrate and adjust to even less tenable living conditions. Farmers and fisherman subsist on this shrinking body of water, with over 58,000 inhabitants, predominantly Chadian and Nigerian, residing on islands in the lake. They travel among the islands for trade, supplies, and limited education, some by long motorized canoes, or water taxis.

Further complicating life on the lake is the water foliage, which has overtaken large areas of the basin. A program for dredging the lake, as a precursor to any water transfer, is scheduled to begin in 2015, but will be a monumental task.

Why Transaqua Is Necessary

Restoring Lake Chad to its previous surface area will not only improve the lives of the 40 million Africans directly dependent on it, but is critical to stopping the desertification southward. Transaqua proposes to capture 5%—100 billion of the Congo River’s 1.9 trillion m3 of water—that flows, squandered and untapped, into the Atlantic Ocean each year, and instead redirect it north through a 2,400-km navigable canal east of the Congo River, northwest across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the Central African Republic (CAR), meeting the Chari River, which would release this additional volume of water into Lake Chad.

This infrastructure project would provide an indispensable feature for a new platform of development in agricultural, industrial, and electrical production, and transportation, affecting up to 12 African nations, thus transforming a large portion of the continent. This peace-through-development approach would contribute more effectively to dealing with the root causes of the growing insurgencies, such as Boko Haram, in the region, than simply employing counter-terrorism security measures. Abdullahi was correct when he told a Washington, D.C. audience in August that if Transaqua had been implemented 30 years ago, we would not be witnessing the horrors we see in the CAR today.

Until now, there has been only minimal discussion of the much smaller Obangi water transfer project, which would only deliver 320 m3 of water per second, compared to 3,200 m3 per second with Transaqua. At best, the Obangi water project would add about 1.5 meters of water to Lake Chad, increasing its surface area by 7,500 km2. Moreover, the Obangi project would not have the same transformative effect on all the countries of the two basins, since the 2,400-km canal extending from the southeast portion of the DRC to the CAR is an essential feature of Dr. Vichi’s proposal.

Freeman requested that the International Scientific Committee study the feasibility of Transaqua and invite Dr. Vichi to present his vision directly to the Commission. These sentiments were echoed by Abdullahi.

Look East for Development

The donor countries, dominated by Europe, oppose any water-transfer project, and have made this abundantly clear to the LCBC. Prince Philip’s World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the mother of the global anti-growth environmental movement, also opposes Transaqua. Although a study of the Obangi project is included in the LCBC’s five-year plan, it has not been pursed enthusiastically, and there is no mention of Transaqua.

As a matter of policy, the West will not support infrastructure development projects for Africa that would save lives, reduce poverty, and improve living conditions for tens of millions of impoverished Africans. U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas Greenfield stated on the eve of the 2014 U.S.-Africa Summit: “We don’t do infrastructure.” Europe and the United States have decayed morally, politically, economically, and intellectually; they have no vision for the future for their own nations, much less the rest of the world. Their dying global financial system threatens to drag the whole world down with them.

However, the outlook of the BRICS nations, exemplified by China’s construction of a New Silk Road Economic Belt, and their scientific endeavors in lunar exploration, have an ingrained commitment to economic progress, and a more optimistic view of the future. Freeman emphasized, during the two-day session, that this growing movement of nations, cooperating in grand infrastructure projects to economically develop their countries, are the natural allies of Africa, which should look to them for collaboration to make Transaqua a reality.

LCBC Executive Secretary Abdullahi understands that thus far there has been a lack of political will and funds to carry out the necessary water-transfer projects. Intent on refurbishing Lake Chad, and improving life for all the countries in the basin, Abdullahi told EIR: “We need you to make our case known to all those who will listen and try to convince them the time is now.”


[1] The Lake Chad Basin Commission was formed in 1964 by Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. In 1996, the Central Africa Republic joined, and Libya became a member-state in 2008.

[2] Participants appointed Kostoingué Bouguyana, lecturer at the University of N’Djamena, as chairman, and EIR Africa specialist Lawrence Freeman, as vice-chairman, of the International Scientific Committee.

Subscribe to EIW