An information meeting on the new project, ‘Applying the model of transboundary biosphere reserves and World Heritage sites to promote peace in the Lake Chad basin through the sustainable management of natural resources’ (BIOPALT), was held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 9 January 2018. The meeting, a joint initiative of the Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, Ms Flavia Schlegel, and the Assistant Director-General for the Africa Department, Mr Edouard Matoko, brought together ambassadors and representatives from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria with representatives from UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Sector, Africa Department and World Heritage Centre.
The BIOPALT project aims to strengthen the capacities of the Member States of the Lake Chad Basin Commission – Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Niger and Nigeria – to safeguard and sustainably manage the hydrological, biological and cultural resources of the Lake Chad basin across their borders, in order to support poverty reduction and promote peace. This three-year project is financed by the African Development Bank for a total of US$ 6,456,000 and is being implemented through a multisectoral approach by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, the World Heritage Centre and the International Hydrological Programme (IHP).
In her introductory remarks, Ms Schlegel highlighted the importance of Lake Chad as a common good that supports nearly 50 million people in West and Central Africa. Lake Chad is the fourth largest lake in Africa, and the largest in Western and Central Africa. Unfortunately, it has lost 90% of its area over the past three decades, a process that is exacerbated by climate change.
Ms Schlegel highlighted the challenges of the BIOPALT project in terms of resilience, reconciliation, peace and development, in the face of the severe degradation of the lake’s environmental resources and the problems of conflict and migration that ensue. ‘If the water has life, the fish have life’ is the African quotation with which she concluded her intervention.
Mr Matoko highlighted the support and the strong attention given to the project at the highest level of UNESCO and underlined its cross-sectoral and inclusive nature, which constitutes an opportunity to promote sub-regional integration in the Lake Chad basin. As BIOPALT is a visionary project in a risk zone, it requires strong political and technical support on the part of the countries of the Lake Chad Basin.
The interventions were followed by a presentation of the context, objectives, components and implementation strategy of the project, in order to ensure a common understanding of the project among all participants, and to stimulate exchanges.
Ambassadors and representatives of the countries welcomed the start of the project, which they hailed as timely in view of the urgency of safeguarding Lake Chad. They recommended the close involvement of relevant UNESCO Category II Centres and Chairs as well as relevant United Nations agencies.
The countries expressed their appreciation of the transversal approach adopted by the project, which combines operational research and knowledge improvement, training and capacity-building, and the implementation of pilot actions for the rehabilitation of ecosystems and the promotion of green economies.