Population dynamics of the basin

According to the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis of the Lake Chad Basin (a paper produced by the LCBC-GEF Program for the reversal of land and water degradation trends), the population of the Lake Chad basin was estimated at 25.5 million inhabitants in 1990. From 1990 to 2002, the population will have increased by 11.7 million, resulting in an estimated 37.2 million people in 2003, according to estimates of the ORNL (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, November 2003 excerpt from the website: www.ornl.gov/gist). These data are based on high annual population growth rates projected at 2.5 to 3% by the World Shore (2002). Based on this growth rate, the population will have increased by at least 8 million between 2004 and 2012 (in 9 years), giving an estimated total population of about 45 million for the entire Lake Chad basin in 2012.  

Population density is higher in Nigeria and the vicinity of Lake Chad; it is lower in the more arid northern areas. The region is currently experiencing rapid urbanization as destitute rural communities seek greener pastures in flooded southern cities like Kano (Nigeria), Maiduguri (Nigeria) and N'Djamena (Chad).

The population of the basin is also characterized by youthfulness in terms of its age structure, especially in the riparian countries of the South. In Niger, for example, nearly 50% of the population is under 15 and only 2% have crossed the age of 65 (World Shore, 2002c). Riparian countries such as Sudan, Libya and Algeria, located on the outskirts of the North-West and North-Eastern borders of the basin have a higher proportion of people over 65 years and their population structure is less skewed towards the young age group. The basin’s population is equally predominantly rural. That of Chad (which occupies 46% of the basin’s surface) is close to 80% rural (IMF, 2003).

Geographical distribution of the basin

The population is very unevenly distributed in the basin. According to the above mentioned Diagnostic analysis, the Nigerian part of the basin harboured 22 million people, 59% of the basin’s total population (in 2003), while its northern and eastern parts, Algeria, Libya and Sudan had only 2.7 million inhabitants (7%), with population densities ranging from 0 to 1 inhabitant per km2 in the mountainous regions of Tibesti for instance. This is due to high population density in Nigeria and the southern parts of the basin in Cameroon and Chad, as well as fast-paced urbanization in the cities of Kano, Maiduguri, Ndjamena and Garoua (the latter city has seen its population double from 122,600 to 287,000 between 1987 and 2003 according to World Gazetteer, 2003).

According to the results of the 2nd General Population and Housing Census (RGPH2) of Chad in 2009, out of a total population of 11,175,915 inhabitants, the population of the Lake Chad Basin in the country stood at 8,025,009 inhabitants, 71.806% of the total, distributed across thirteen major areas which are Chari Baguirmi (621,785), Hadjer Lamis (562,957), Kanem (354,603) the Lake (451,369), West Logone (683 293), East Logone (796453) Mandoul (637,086), East Mayo Kebbi (769,178), West Mayo Kebbi (565,087) Medium Chari (598,284) Salamat (308 605) , the Tandjilé (682,817) the City of Ndjamena (993,492). This percentage (almost 72% of Chad’s entire population) reflects the demographic importance of the Lake Chad basin in this country.

With respect to the Central African Republic (CAR), the General Population and Housing Census (RGPH) of 2003 describes the population of Region 3 (corresponding to the Lake Chad Basin in this country), which is composed of the Ouaham Pende and Ouham Prefectures, as follows: Bozoum (40,931) Koui (21,947) Bocaranga (61,190) Paoua (120,590); Ngaoundaye (67303) , Bossembélé (13,606) Bossangoa (95,360) Nana Bakassa (34,208) Markounda (13,488) Nana Boguila (16,745) Bouca (42,562) Batangafo (48,197) Kabo (30,212).

The total population of the Ouham Pende (325,567 inhabitants) and Ouham Prefectures (280, 772 inhabitants), or 606,339 inhabitants in these two prefectures in 2003 was equal to the population of the Bossangoa Region in CAR. We do not have updated data for this region since 2003.

Similarly, we do not have recent demographic data on areas of the Lake Chad Basin that lie within Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. These data will be made ​​available in subsequent issues of the Website.

Socio-economic organisation of the basin’s population

Across the basin, traditional systems of social organization have been shaped more or less by the modern world system. The old systems which favoured family and village solidarity saw their authority curtailed. Conversely, in some cases, new types of village organizations, associations and cooperatives, women and youth associations, political parties, school groups and the like, have emerged. But for the most part, these groups are young, often inexperienced and inadequately trained for natural resource management activities.

In general, the agricultural regions of the South, where population densities are relatively high, with long standing experience in cooperative, missionary or extension activities, the local populations have developed skills and propensities towards organization and responsibility. In these particularly well irrigated areas, the role of any external assistance provided may be limited to canalization and technical supervision of degradation control measures.

By contrast, in pastoral areas and other areas of low population density, experience in cooperative as well as sustainable development activities is very rare. In these regions, the short-term ability of populations to organize natural resource management is relatively low. This situation can be improved through sustained training efforts focused on interventions suited to the needs of a population that is flexible and mobile by definition, with few alternatives in the face of drought. In these regions, States and donors should therefore get more involved in fostering the necessary consistency and continuity.

Socio-cultural and political aspects

According to the  "Transboundary diagnostic analysis '', the Lake Chad Basin is home to about 70 ethnic groups, some of which live in several countries in the basin, each one exploiting its immediate environment through a preferred activity. Most of the riparian populations speak several local languages ​​and one official language. The most widely spoken languages ​​in the region reflect the political roles of the pre-colonial period: Kanuri (in Niger and Nigeria), Fulfulde (in Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon) and Arabic (in Chad). This covers a wide variety of ethnolinguistic groups (Otitis, 1990).

In spite of the use of modern English or French legal and administrative systems depending on the country, customary laws and traditional rules are still applied, especially with regard to land and water use.

According to Kindler et al. (1990), the basin is a reflection of a socio-historical unity based on a history shared among population groups established here, some of which straddle national boundaries. Many trading channels are controlled by those groups which consider them as their private domain (e.g., Hausa and Kanuri).

It seems that the ancient islamized empires (Kanem-Bornu, the Fulani Empire of Sokoto, Wadai and Baguirmis) are largely responsible for the current distribution of population in the basin, including small groups which had sought refuge in the region of the Mandara Mountains and Mayo Kebbi. Most of the riparian populations got established on the western shore of the lake under the jurisdiction of Borno State (one of the federal States of Nigeria) and dominated by the Kanuri. Migrations prior to western colonization brought the Shuwa Arabs from the East and the Fulani herdsmen from the West, and in the 70s, the Hausa of Northern Nigeria, attracted by the opportunities offered by forestry in the Lake’s basin (Neiland & Verinumbe 1990 Sarch 2001).

Most of the basin’s riparian countries have experienced complex political instability and their history since 1960, when they achieved independence from the French and English colonial powers, has been mired in conflict at national and international level.

Nigeria has seen 11 regimes at the helm of the state, coups and civil war, Chad has been beset by almost continual crisis and ongoing war, only Cameroon has had a relatively stable government (Neiland , Béné 2003).

 The escalation of armed conflicts and rebel activity on the Lake’s islands has persisted since the 70s and are widely attributed to the string of civil wars that have broken out in Chad and the migration of Nigerian fishermen to the South-East due to the decline of the lake. A "Joint multinational patrol" which was set up to address the political instability, supervises activities on the Lake in order to prevent further violence. (Sarh, 2001).

Economic activities of the basin’s populations

The populations are primarily involved in traditional activities such as agriculture, livestock rearing, fisheries and forestry, as well as corresponding handicraft processing works. In recent decades, they have also conducted some modern agribusiness and industrial (cotton ginning, breweries, leather industry, machinery, milling and food industry, etc...) as well as mining activities (gold mining in the CAR and oil production in Chad). Most of these industries are concentrated in urban areas, especially in northern Nigeria, in Cameroon and Chad.

Moreover, the populations’ economic activities are characterised by flexibility and mobility in time and space owing to drought, climate change and food insecurity, which have compelled them to adapt to these scourges. Thus, the basin’s wetlands serve as fall-back areas (for agriculture and food) to cope with the effects of drought, while areas with recurrent droughts are increasingly abandoned through unbridled migration. The drought of the 70s and 80s, and the period from 2008 to 2010 and the opening up of sub-regional routes which have led to the expansion of trade, prompted the large scale migration of farmers southwards and other movements of migrants from the nearby west, resulting in a high spatial concentration of people, likely to breed social tensions, particularly with regard to the use and sharing of natural resources.

The primary sector employs over 80% of the population and mainly involves fishing, agriculture and livestock rearing. The tables below show income sources and most of the socio-economic activities in the Lake Chad Basin.

Table 1 : Income sources of the region’s households


Millions $ US



Rain fed and flood recession agriculture


Animal husbandry


Small scale irrigation


Large scale irrigation


Table 2 : Income sources of the region’s households

Economic activities comprise  

  • Mining: e.g. Gold mining in the Central African Republic.
  • Oil: Exploration and exploitation.
  • Agriculture: Cotton, groundnuts, cassava, millet, sorghum, rice, onions. Mixed cropping is a widespread practice.
  • Fisheries: In the dams, rivers, floodplains and Lake Chad.
  • Industry: Cotton ginning, breweries, leather industry, machinery, milling and food industry.

Source: Nami, 2002

Table 3 : Types of activities practised on the Lake  

Types of activities found to be practised at the Lake

(1) Major fishing activity practised by all the people on its shore

(2) Major livestock rearing practised depending on seasonal entries into the Lake’s bed for fodder

(3) Various transport activities which are carried out on the Lake only during flood periods

(4) Regular gathering of  doum palms, aquatic plants and salt flats

(5) Modern moribund agriculture which is practised along the Nigerian shores and which pumps water from the Lake for irrigation and to cool the electrical power system

(6) A wildlife heritage and a possible tourist industry driven by wetland birds, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, elephants and the Sitatunga

(7) A passive “ pollution” control system which protects Lake Chad from high salinity

(8) A groundwater  refilling system which is poorly understood  but can irrigate the agricultural areas of the  polders on the North-East shore of the Lake

Health and education of the basin’s populations

There is a disparity in terms of access health care among populations in the conventional basin, due to lack of health facilities and medical doctors. Thus, the rural population’s health standard is generally lower than that of urban populations. The health and educational indicators presented in Table 4 below provide the national statistics of member countries in these areas.

Table 4 : Health and Education indicators of the Lake Chad basin  

Indicators / Health & Education







Life expectancy (2000)







Infant mortality /1000 Live births (2000)







Under nourishment prevalence, % of pop (96-98)







Incidence of TB/100,000 people







Medical Doctors/1000 people (1990 – 1999)







Health care expenditure, %  of GDP







Adult illiteracy, male, % : 15 & more (2000)







Adult illiteracy, female, % : 15 & more (2000)







Gross primary school enrolment rate, number of school age children (1998)







Source: World Shore, 2002c

General Conclusion

In recent decades, the basin’s populations have been threatened by the dramatic shrinkage of the lake’s surface area, drought, desertification, climate change and overexploitation of natural resources. These phenomena which are rooted in both natural and human causes (including high population growth mentioned above) have relatively impoverished them in the medium term and pose a threat to the basin’s environment as a whole. They have further triggered or exacerbated social conflicts over access, use and sharing of the basin's natural resources. Fortunately, steps taken by the riparian States of the Lake’s basin and the LCBC, particularly through large scale programs and projects, as well as those undertaken by various socio-economic organizations and civil society have helped to significantly reduce and ease these social tensions, thereby fostering progress towards growing social peace.