The Lake Chad Water Charter was formally approved or adopted at the 14th Summit of the LCBC Heads of State and Government held on the 30th April 2012 in N’Djamena, Chad. Four out of the six Presidents (Niger, Nigeria, Chad and CAR) of the LCBC states personally assented to the document, while the two others (Cameroon and Libya) endorsed through their authorized representatives.
Thus the document becomes the first legal instrument after the 1964 Fort Lamy Convention to be collectively assented by the highest political authorities as a binding document to cover the entire Lake Chad Basin. Incidentally, the closing preamble of the Charter clearly indicates that one of its purposes is to amend the 1964 Convention and Statute of the LCBC. This declaration emphasized by the provisions under Article6 of the Charter confers it a wide legal prominence, as it refines and supplements the Commission’s highest legal instruments.
What is the Lake Chad Water Charter?
The Lake Chad Water Charter is a document setting out the rights, obligations, duties, restrictions, processes and procedures pertaining to proper management of the Lake Chad resources. Once again, another preamble of the charter gives further insight as to its nature and goal by stating that the document is determined to promote sustainable development in the Basin through integrated, equitable coordinated management of natural resources, (and) in particular the Basin water resources. Under Articles 3, the general objective of the charter maintained the same focus and elaborated that the framework “advocates good governance, sub-regional cooperation and solidarity based on the common interest of the Member States…” (Emphasis supplied).
Article 4 set out the specific objectives the charter aims to provide. These are covered under various items and spheres such as quality and quantity management for surface water and wetlands; groundwater management; ecosystem and biodiversity; processes of approving new projects; facilities of common interest; national and regional responsibilities; data sharing and exchange; conflict prevention and resolutions; and socio-economic development of riparian populace.
The Water Charter and People’s Rights
The charter makes adequate provisions to ensure the protection of the riparian populace’s right to the usage of water and other resources.
Under Chapter 12, a wide range of rights were provided including the right to water and sanitation, right of information, gender protection, customary rights and NGO participations. All these are designed towards the general and specific objectives of creating the charter. Of particular importance is the mission to advocate good governance and allow for the socio-economic development within the sub-region and beyond.
The Lake Chad water charter and sub-regional integration and security
Article 3 as cited above has put beyond speculation that one of the general objectives of the charter is to engender sub-regional cooperation and solidarity, the main indicator of which are sub-regional peace, security and development. The relevant question is how does the charter facilitate such an objective?
First of all it is a major step towards integration to a have a uniform and harmonized regulations governing the management of shared resources. This is more so when the diverse background of the members is put into account; with three members in the Central African region, two from West Africa, and one from the North Africa. In a different order, four are Francophone, one Anglophone and one Arab.
Secondly, it is universally accepted that water and food security are the essential tools of ensuring security of lives and property. This is so because there can never be any peace and security where such basic necessities are not secured. Therefore, as the water charter sets to provide sound and equitable management of water resources, it signifies the both food and water security and this directly has positive impact on the sub-regional peace, security and cooperation.
Furthermore, the water charter introduces or reinforces institutional frameworks designed to ensure sub-regional cooperation and integration. One of these is the Regional Parliamentary Committee of the Lake Chad. Although the Committee came into existence in 2004, mainly to support the actualization and implementation of the Inter-basin Water transfer from Congo basin to the Lake Chad, its recognition by the water charter marks it among the Commission’s subsidiary statutory organs. The committee, with membership from all the Parliaments of the Member nations, has the potential of providing a sub-regional forum to serve as a vehicle for effective cooperation and integration.
The reactivation of this organ in February 2013 in Niamey-Niger, attended by substantial number of Stakeholders, is an encouraging development. But this can only be meaningful if the Committee is able to justify its existence and remain functional and relevant to the affairs of the Commission and the sub-region.
Apart from the Regional Parliamentary Committee, the Charter also established recognized some other subsidiary organs such as the Technical Committee; Water Resources Advisory Committee; the Environment, Science and Planning Committee; and the LCBC National Agencies. It is hoped that like the Regional Parliament, these organs will be put in place and allowed to play their designated roles; as sub-regional bodies to superintendent the implementation of the Charter and also pave the way for the much needed regional cooperation and integration.
The issues discussed above are geared towards integration, peace, cooperation, and security as means to prevent or minimize conflicts and disputes between member states as well as between citizens of member states. In real life, however, such disputes or conflicts may still occur. The Charter provides outlets of addressing such disputes, within the general objective of promoting regional cooperation, peace and security.
Under Article 85, State parties have committed themselves to settle inter -state disputes in a friendly manner, having regards to UN, AU Charters governing the matter. Article 86 also insisted on State parties to pursue friendly settlement on the interpretation and application of the Charter.
Article 87 enjoins the members to refer any dispute they are unable to resolve directly between them, to the Commission (LCBC) to mediate and resolve. Where the LCBC is unable to resolve a dispute, regional or sub-regional authorities may be involved. As a last resort, the parties may resort to judicial arbitrations, if all the above measures are exhausted.
The Lake Chad Basin Water Charter is in tune with the international concern to ensure that water as one of the most precious commodities is properly managed. The purpose of the Charter is to develop, adopt and implement policies and strategies to promote the equitable, efficient and sustainable of water and other resources in the basin in order to facilitate good governance, sub-regional cooperation and solidarity.
However, the Charter like all legal documents is a mere expression which can only be effective if faithfully implemented and enforced. Its usefulness and efficacy, therefore, entirely depend upon the ability, the will and the extent to allow it to operate.