Chad (lake)

Lake Chad

Lake Chad is a large freshwater lake located in central Africa, on the border between Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. It is the fourth largest lake on the continent and one of the most important sources of fresh water for many hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

Lake Chad is known for its unique biodiversity and is home to many species of fish, birds, and other animals. In recent decades, however, the lake has faced serious environmental problems, such as deforestation and the use of water for agriculture, which has led to a dramatic decrease in its size and number of living organisms.

Many experts believe that preserving Lake Chad is critical and requires international efforts to protect the environment and sustainable development in the region.


There are many mysteries here that have not yet been solved. The lake itself became known to Europeans relatively recently. In Europe, they learned about it from the words of Arab travelers Ibn Battuta (XIV century) and Leo the African (XVI century), considered their reports about the “sea” among the sands tales empty.

Only in 1823, the Scottish traveler Hugh Clapperton first walked 2,000 kilometers over the sands from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Chad. Clapperton’s expedition discovered such a vast expanse of water in the middle of the sands, that he was not able to make even a rough map. The traveler’s achievement was that he confirmed the existence of a large lake south of the great desert and accurately recorded its coordinates.

Thirty years later, the German scientist Heinrich Barth visited this place. He saw an overgrown marshy body of water; only here and there could be seen the free water surface.

After another twenty years, in 1871 the level of the lake rose again and its waters destroyed the town of Ngagmi, which had stood on the northern shore for centuries.


Lake Chad is located in a tectonic depression. Over millions of years, the depression has been filled with sediment and water. The climate has changed, becoming hotter, and the water surface area has gradually shrunk.

Chad remains the only large body of water in Central Africa, despite the constant fluctuations (every twenty to thirty years) in the water level of the lake. Because of this, the lake has no clear outlines, then increasing to 26 thousand km2 and becoming the twelfth largest in the world, then shrinking to 1/10 of its original size. There are natural cycles in water level fluctuations: maximum in August, minimum in January and February. Apart from natural causes there are also human ones: the residents of the banks of the Shari River, the largest river that feeds the lake, take away a lot of river water for irrigation, which has already led to a sharp decrease in the area of the lake. In addition, the bottom of the lake is constantly rising because silt, sand, and lake mud are deposited on it.

The lake is deprived of runoff in the form of rivers. The water evaporates and seeps into the sandy soil. With such a water regime, and in a hot climate, the lake must be very salty. But Chad’s water is practically fresh, and you can drink it without fear of consequences.

It turns out that lake water is fresh only in the upper layers, and is brackish near the bottom. Fresh water in the form of river and rainfall runoff entering the lake does not mix with the salt water, but stays on top of it. But why isn’t the saltwater column growing? 900 km northeast of Chad is the Bodele Basin, which is 80 meters below the level of the lake. An underground watercourse leads from the lake to it, under the bed of the dried-up Bahr el-Ghazal River. This is how the salty bottom waters constantly flow out of the lake.


Lake Chad is home to many species of animals. Millions of migratory birds, including flamingos and pelicans, fly here from Europe and Western Asia. Chad’s fauna is especially abundant in summer and autumn, when the savannas in the south and southeast are covered with lush vegetation, and the green crowns of acacias and baobabs are visible above the tall grasses.

Zebras, antelopes, giraffes, ostriches, dik-diks, hogs, crocodiles, elephants, and rhinoceroses live here. In the east of the lake, herds of hippos of forty to fifty head can be found. The water antelope is considered the symbol of Chad: an animal as tall as a dog, which lives in the reeds and eats fish.

The rarest species of aquatic mammals, the manatee, is on the verge of extinction and remains a hunting ground for the local population. It is unclear how this marine animal ended up in a freshwater lake, and in the middle of Africa.


The most noteworthy archaeological discoveries have been made off the southern shores of Lake Chad: where the Kokoko tribes live today. Many years ago the culture of the Sao people was born there. The Arabs gave it this name. As for the Kotoko themselves, they claim that they have no name at all, but should be called “the people who came out of the water.

The huts of the Kotoko tribe stand in the order in which the constellations that patronize the individual families are lined up. The huts are on a periodically flooded plain. When the water rises high and floods the houses, the kotoko live in boats, traveling between the sparse islands. These journeys are risky: there are often strong winds and one and a half meters high waves in the shallow waters, which overturn even the boats of the local police.

But the water disappears, and then the kotoko return to their dwellings in time to cultivate the land where there is a thick layer of fertile silt. They sow mostly wheat.

It would be a great mistake to think that a full-fledged state could not be established in these places. Bornu, or Borno – a medieval state with an area of about 250 thousand km2, known to the Arabs since the 14th century. Once existed on the shores of Lake Chad and was created by the Kanuri tribes who migrated to the lake from the east.
The population was engaged in the slave and cattle trade. Money was used for kauri shells: 4,000 shells equaled one Thaler of Maria Theresa. In the early 19th century, the French destroyed the army of Borno and the state itself was divided between England, France, and Germany. Only the name Borno has survived: it is the name of one of the northern states of Nigeria.

Despite the lake’s erratic nature and hot climate with little precipitation, the nature here is rich and distinctive. The western shores, where the water has retreated to the maximum distance, are overgrown with savannas and dry sparse forests. The southern coast is swampy, covered with floodplain forests. The soils here are suitable for agriculture, and therefore it is here that the cultivated lands are concentrated. The coastline in the north and east is thoroughly rugged and is an extremely intricate maze of shallow lagoons and bays, sandbanks and islets.

The existence of Lake Chad affects the lives of 30 million people living on its shores and in its vicinity. But the life of the lake itself is also in danger. Intensive deforestation on the banks of the Shari and its tributaries and large-scale construction of irrigation canals have led to the fact that the Shari is no longer able to feed Chad. In addition, during floods, the Shari washes sand and clay from its banks, carrying them directly into the lake.

Statistics on the rise and fall of water show that in the twentieth century the level of water has never reached the heights recorded in past centuries. If the lake does disappear, the consequences would be dire: all the wells northeast of Chad, where groundwater is fed by the lake’s moisture, would dry up. The population would be destroyed or displaced, and the unique fauna of Chad would disappear. One is the creation of the “Sea of Congo”: a giant reservoir at Livingstone Falls. After the construction of the dam, the largest tributary of the Congo, the Ubangi River, would flow in the opposite direction and connect to the Chadian basin through a canal. In this case, according to calculations, Lake Chad will be replaced by a body of water the size of half the Mediterranean Sea.

General Information

  • Location: Central Africa.
  • Origin: Tectonic.
  • Category: undrained (water evaporates and seeps into the sand).
  • Lake countries: Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger.
  • Languages: French, English, Arabic, Hausa, Yoruba, Kanuri.
  • Ethnicity: Bedouins, Tuaregs, Fulbe, Hausa, Kanebu, Toubou, Sera, Hakka.
  • Religion: Islam.
  • Currency: the CFA franc and the Nigerian naira.
  • Major population centers: Baga, Blangwa, Abodo, Kuludia, Baga Sola, and Ngigmi.
  • Largest river: Shari (flows in).
  • Fauna: crocodiles, hippos, numerous avifauna.
  • Area: 1350 km2, in 1983 – 10,000 km2-25,000 km2.
  • Average depth: 1.5 m.
  • Maximum depth: 11 m.
  • Height above sea level: 244 m.
  • Water volume: 72 km3.
  • Length of coastline: 650 km.


  • Agriculture: plant growing (millet, wheat, cotton); cattle breeding (cattle); fishery.
  • Exploitation of natural soda deposits.
  • Irrigation of arid lands.
  • Services: tourism.

Climate and weather

  • Dry tropical.
  • Water temperature: +17°C – +32°C.
  • Average annual rainfall: 200-400 mm (mainly in the North).


  • Petroglyphs and fossils from parched areas of Lake Chad (National Museum of Chad. N’Djamena)
  • Unique flora and fauna
  • Kotoko villages on the banks of the lake

Fun Facts

  • The two-breasted protopters (1 meter in length and 4 kilos in weight), which live in Lake Chad, experience the dry season by burrowing in the ground and hibernate for up to four years. When catching protopters, the local people of Sudan use a drum, whose sounds imitate raindrops. The tricked protopters wake up and crawl out of their nests.
  • Crocodiles and hippos are endangered species of the fauna of Lake Chad. – as well as colonies of birds live on floating islands, which are clusters of algae and reeds.
  • Freshwater fish live in the upper (fresh) water layer of Lake Chad, and the marine fish that entered the lake in ancient times stay near the bottom.
  • In Lake Chad, ordinary algae grow poorly, carbon dioxide and sunlight are consumed by the predominant species – spirulina (blue-green algae) Biomass of spirulina doubles in three to four days, so the banks of Chad in some places are covered with its thick layer. Locals have long used it as a food, because spirulina is full of vitamins, trace elements, fatty acids, and protein.
  • The Kanuri language is spoken by about 4 million people living in the lowlands of Lake Chad. The Kanuri language is the main language of the vanished empires of Kamem (Kanem) and Bornu, which existed in the region of Lake Chad for thousands of years before European colonization.
  • The women of the Sera tribe still retain the custom of deforming various parts of the body to decorate themselves, for example by inserting round plates or plates up to 40 cm in diameter into their lips.
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