Lake Chad's water woes

Finding clean water is as difficult for people living on the islands in Lake Chad as it is for their neighbours along the shores. "Since 1963, the surface area of Lake Chad has decreased from approximately 25,000 sq km to 1,350 sq km," according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

"For the 2,000 residents here, there is only one water well, built by a church two years ago," said David Penabeye, director of a health clinic on the island of Fitiné, who told IRIN that almost all the children have worms. Onshore, children use donkey carts to carry jerry cans filled with water for bathing, cooking and drinking.

UNEP noted that "Since 1963, the lake has shrunk to nearly a twentieth of its original size, due both to climatic changes and to high demands for agricultural water." The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said the lake was also shallower than it has ever been.

Half of Chad's estimated population of around 10 million has access to drinking water from "improved" sources, including covered wells, springs or pipes.

However, 83 percent of rural households – which encompasses almost all of island life – defecate in open places where they may be getting their drinking water, according to the UN 2010 update on sanitation and clean water. 

"The water helps nourish us with fish, but it is also making us sick," said Abdou Adam, the top traditional leader on Fitiné. He chose clean water as one of the island's biggest needs, along with a working health centre and schools.