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One of the most significant and the biggest lakes in Africa is Lake Chad located in the Central Africa. The European colonizers called it Chad, which merely means a “lake” in a local dialect. The lake is of great importance and value for the maintenance of life in the region, as it is one of the largest sources of fresh water supplies in the area. According to rough estimations, this lake provides water to about 70 million inhabitants residing in Central Africa (Lemoalle, Bader, Leblanc, & Sedick, 2012). Additionally, the lake substantially contributes to the maintenance of the eco-system and bio-diversity in the region. As a result, the protection of Lake Chad is the matter of national as well as international control and monitoring, due to its exceptional role in the preservation of life of the eco-system.
In the second half of the 20th century, Lake Chad became one of the greatest ecological disasters, the causes of which are quite controversial and ambiguous. In three decades, the lake has diminished dramatically losing about 95% of its waters (Lemoalle et al., 2012). Currently, the protection of this lake is regulated by the United Nations Environment Program along with numerous NGOs and activists, who are attempting to maintain the capacities of the lake and improve its size (Lauwaet, Van Lipzig, Van Weverberg, De Ridder, & Goyens, 2012). The latest studies reveal certain improvements in the recovery of the lake after the drastic shrinking. Therefore, Lake Chad is a good example of how the unsustainable lifestyle and interventions may influence the eco-systems. However, with the help of sustainable development techniques and laws regulating the environmental protection in Central Africa, it will become possible to restore capacities of Lake Chad, as well as its flora and fauna.
Geography and Eco-System of Lake Chad
Lake Chad is located in Central Africa and borders on four countries: Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria. It is considered to be the biggest lake in the region and in the basin of the Chad River. Approximately 90% of lake’s water supplies are provided by the Chari River (Lauwaet et al., 2012). Other contributions are made by the Yobe River flowing from Nigeria. Lake Chad contains fresh water, and that explains its exclusive role in the preservation and maintenance of life in the surroundings.
The lake contains many small islands, which are scattered throughout its water area. Some of the islands even form the small archipelago known as Bogomerom. Moreover, the banks of the lake are mostly covered with mud and swamplands. The latter is common for both banks and middle of the lake. On the shorelines, it is possible to observe large areas of marshes, which serve as a natural habitat for the numerous species. In particular, the lake is a residence for about 40 species of algae, which is frequently used in the production and food processing purposes. For example, Lake Chad is rich in spirulina, which is a highly demanded product in the food market. Apart from that, there exist many other species of plants and algae the lake, which form the majority of its wetlands and swamps.
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With respect to the fauna of Lake Chad, it should be mentioned that it contains around 200 fish species. The vast majority of them is shared with other lake basins in Africa, particularly in the Niger River Basin and the Congo River Basin. However, there are also some species, which are unique for this lake, and which are not observed in any other water areas. One of them is Brycinus dageti, which is identified as a subtype of the Brycinus nurse. In total, the bio-diversity of Lake Chad remains somewhat less prominent, in comparison with the basins of Malawi, Victoria and other African lakes. The researchers explain it by the relative isolation of the water area of Lake Chad and its recent ecological decline (Akan, Abbagambo, Chellube, & Abdulrahman, 2012). Nevertheless, the lake maintains a sufficient amount of species for the appropriate functioning of the eco-system.
Besides the fish species, the lake is also an inhabitance place for a variety of wildlife, which resides on its islands. The lake is settled by numerous animals and birds, many of which migrate and change their locations, according to the season. Hence, there are some endemic species in Lake Chad known as river prinia (Prinia fluviatilis) and the rusty lark (Mirafra rufa) (Jean-Richard et al., 2014). Therefore, in general, Lake Chad is an important area for the bio-diversity.
Lak Chad is classified as shallow, as its maximum depth does not exceed 11 m. Hence, this fact explains the increased sensitivity of the lake to seasonal fluctuations and changes in the level of water (Cheo et al., 2013). As a result, it remains highly vulnerable to any significant changes in the amount of precipitations or droughts. It is typical for Lake Chad to get much precipitation during the rainfall period, which lasts from July to September (Lauwaet et al., 2012). In other seasons, the lake remains relatively shallow due to the increased dryness of the climate.
Overall, Lake Chad is a strategic and important water area in Central Africa, which is a significant source of life maintenance and economic prosperity of the neighboring countries. Consequently, the ecological catastrophe at Lake Chad is an urgent environmental issue, which demands immediate solutions and action plans.
Causes of the Ecological Disorder at Lake Chad
The apparent problem of Lake Chad is the dramatic decrease of the water level and land area for water bodies. Only during the period from 1963 to 1998, the lake lost about 95% of its territory (Oruonye, 2013). Thus, this became an alarming threat to the bio-diversity and eco-system considering the vital importance of the lake in the region. Currently, the experts inform about several factors, which could have contributed to the ecological disaster at Lake Chad.
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Firstly, one of the potential reasons is the abnormal exploitation of the lake resources by the states and inappropriate treatment of the sustainable development of Lake Chad. Nowadays, the neighboring countries and global community pay great attention to the preservation of water and wildlife as well as sustainable development of water areas (Akan et al., 2012). However, in reality, the policies and actions of the Central African states are far from adhering to such regulations and demonstrating conscious attitudes to the use of natural resources (Oruonye, 2013). Hence, this is one of the causes of the existing catastrophe at Lake Chad.
The Central African countries highly rely on agriculture and land cultivation, which form the core of national economies and industries. With this purpose, the states and households widely utilize natural resources, often bordering their activities with their direct exploitation and exhaustion (Cheo et al., 2013). In particular, the unsustainable farming leads to the deterioration of quality of soils, exhaustion of lands and loss of bio-diversity as a result of fertilization and chemical processing of soils (Oruonye, 2013). Another exploitative aspect is the excessive irrigation of lands, which directly affects the quality and size of water areas in the region (Oruonye, 2013). Potentially, the increase of irrigation and exploitation of water resources of Lake Chad for the purposes of agriculture and land cultivation triggered its decline and regression.
Secondly, another cause of Lake Chad’s degradation is the climate change and fluctuation in the weather conditions. Recently, the researches have formulated the idea that the abnormal rates of air pollution have initiated noticeable shifts in the rainfall patterns. In other words, it is estimated that the climate of rainfalls has been shifted far to the south (Akan et al., 2012). Thus, this theory explains that the climate at Lake Chad has become drier, meaning less precipitation during the same period as previously (Lauwaet et al., 2012). Hence, this reason could explain the shrinking of water size of the lake and point to its inability to recover in a natural manner. In this light, climate change as a global threat has led to the ecological disaster at Lake Chad.
Thirdly, the cause of the decline of Lake Chad might consist in the invasion of species, which are not regular inhabitants of the area. In particular, there are some studies identifying the influence of invasive plants on the eco-system of the given lake (Cheo,et al., 2013). According to this theory, invasive species are the ones, which are brought from the outside (in the process of natural disasters or human activities) and which represent threat to the local inhabitants (Jean-Richard et al., 2014). The species themselves are not necessarily harmful, though their functions and lifestyle may be negative for the functioning of the eco-system. In case of Lake Chad, one of the invasive species is the plant called Typha australis (Jean-Richard et al., 2014). The spread of this plant in the lake could lead to the extinction of the fauna and qualitative changes in the chemical content of the water. As a result, this could produce the inevitable changes in the water level and shrinking of the lake.
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Furthermore, the cause of the disaster may lie in the population pressure. The experts identify population pressure as a distinct reason of Lake Chad’s diminishment and outline it as the lack of awareness about the use of natural resources and unconscious exploitation of water supplies (Cheo et al., 2013). The population pressure itself cannot be viewed as the major cause of the lake’s shrinking, though it could be a prominent contributor. While the policies and understanding of the sustainable development techniques are not widely spread in the African region, this could trigger the excessive utilization of lake’s resources for the household purposes.
Finally, the cause of the lake’s degradation could be seen in the inappropriate policies and regulations imposed by the Central African states. For example, many African countries develop policies for addressing and treatment of ecological and natural disasters, instead of focusing on the preventive and proactive measures and laws (Cheo et al., 2013). As a result, the Central African region lacks a complex and integrated approach to the timely identification and prevention of the ecological crises. Evidently, this strategy negatively affects the environment and may provoke serious damages.
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Sustainable Development Program for Lake Chad
There are several strategies, which assist in recovery of Lake Chad and maintenance of its sustainable development. Some of the strategies are already implemented, while others are still to be introduced. Thus, the first solution for the current degradation should be adopted on the local level. It means that the neighboring countries and industries should take measures to stop the decline of the lake and contribute to its improvement.
In this regard, the potential solution is green farming, which is also known as sustainable one. The principal difference of green farming from the conventional one is the conscious use of natural resources and tolerant attitudes to the cultivation of lands. In particular, green farming denies utilization of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers, which contaminate soils, ground waters, atmosphere and threaten living cycles of living organisms (Cheo et al., 2013). Moreover, green farming encourages the adequate and appropriate utilization of water resources without direct exploitation and exhaustion (Cheo et al., 2013). Effective application to this technique will help to reduce the level of exploitation of lake’s water supplies and provide it with the needed time for replenishment.
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The second solution is the establishment of the special commission or national department to take control and care over the sustainable development of Lake Chad. Currently, the development of the lake is regulated by the United Nations Environment Program and the Lake Chad Basin Commission (Turner, 2013). In addition, Lake Chad is the field of interest for many local and international NGOs, which promote sustainable development and contribute to it through multiple activities and programs. Apart from that, many countries have united their efforts to enhance the situation at Lake Chad, namely Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan (Turner, 2013). The collaborative efforts of many states are channeled to increase the water area of the lake as well as prevent its regression and shrinking (Turner, 2013). In particular, those programs on sustainable development regulate the utilization of lake’s resources, monitor its flora and fauna, control the water level and react to any changes, if applicable. The contemporary sustainable development programs with regard to Lake Chad introduce the integrative and complex approach to the settlement of its problem and identify the importance of its preservation as a prominent task of the global community.
Therefore, the solutions for the current situation at Lake Chad should rely mainly on the preventive and proactive measures, rather than reactive and interfering ones. The main task of the region now is to maintain sustainable environmental practices with the purpose of protecting natural resources and giving them time for the replenishment. The increase of ecological consciousness and awareness are among the key elements of the successful treatment of the current regression along with elimination of future risks and threats. In this light, the modern measures and programs initiated by the UN and African countries strongly help to raise this awareness and make Lake Chad a safe and prosperous place.
To conclude, the application of sustainable development techniques and improvement of the ecological conditions of Lake Chad is one of the paramount tasks of the local and global community, because this is one of the most important and strategic water objects in Central African. It provides water supplies to thousands of residents as well as assists in maintaining life in the eco-system. In the second half of the 20th century, the lake experienced an ecological crisis, which led to the dramatic decrease of its water supplies and water level. As a result, the United Nations reported on the ecological catastrophe in the region, which presents inevitable threat to the entire area. The reasons of the lake’s regression are numerous. They include invasion of species, climate change, exploitation and exhaustion of natural resources in the process of agriculture and lack of sustainable approach to the management of lakes’ capacities. Nowadays, Lake Chad is in the focus of activities of the United Nations Environment Program and the Lake Chad Basin Commission. The sustainable development solutions encompass green farming, constant control over the current situation at Lake Chad, danger prevention and monitoring of the improvements with the help of technologies. Moreover, a great contribution to the recovery of the lake is made by the formation of sustainable attitudes and conscious use of natural resources by local inhabitants.