A total of 2.4 million people in northeastern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger have been displaced by the rise of Boko Haram. Since December 2014, communities around Lake Chad have been fleeing the sound of gunfire, the sight of their houses in flames and the memory of loved ones murdered by the Boko Haram fighters.

In Nigeria, some have been displaced within their country, while others have been forced to seek refuge across the lake in neighbouring states. More than 7,000 Nigerian refugees have landed on the Chadian side of the lake, where they are living in the Dar Es Salam camp, just outside the town of Bagasola.

Chad, along with the other provinces that border the lake, has seen its economy take a hit, because the closure of borders has resulted in a slowdown in trade, herding, farming and fishing.

Environmental tolls due to climate change have also affected communities surrounding Lake Chad, including the refugee population. Desertification, deforestation, intruding vegetation, soil salinity and drought are all suffocating livelihoods and aggravating poverty, making Lake Chad a fertile ground for Boko Haram recruitment.

Today, at nearly a twentieth of its size back in the 1960s, Lake Chad continues to shrink as invasive plant species grow, covering nearly half of the lake's surface.

This undesired vegetation grows on the lake's floor during dry seasons, and when water levels rise following rainfall, it deprives surrounding communities, including refugees, of access to the lake's open waters.

Due to vulnerability of this environment and threat of rainfall fluctuations, livelihood programmes are a priority for the humanitarian organisations. So far, the United Nations refugee agency has helped 150 households with fishing boats and material. Beneficiaries make an average of $10 a week, which contributes towards sustaining their families.

The programme, however, covers only 8 percent of Nigerian refugees in Chad. More funding is needed to include more fishermen, farmers, herders and traders from both the refugee and local communities.


Irregular rainfall around Lake Chad has affected fishing patterns for both locals and refugees. Sporadic rains towards the end of the rainy season have kept levels too high for artisanal fishing, restricting the size of the catch and, consequently, hitting livelihoods and affecting the fish trade.

Nigerian refugees work as fishermen, often in partnership with their Chadian counterparts.


Refugees await the arrival of fishing boats. Due to a strain on fishing resources, more fish is being dried to cook in soups - which will feed more people.


A Chadian villager finishes washing her last catch of the day. Since the arrival of refugee, many locals have forged working partnerships with Nigerian fishermen to share in their advanced fishing techniques.


Nigerian refugee Hawali Oumar, 43, lives and works by the lake, a few kilometres from his family in the refugee camp. He spends up to 10 days fishing before allowing himself two days with his family.


A Nigerian refugee tidies his fishing net after a long night's work. Chadian authorities have tightened regulations on the types of nets allowed to curb over-fishing.


Hawali Oumar, 43, fixes his hand-held fishing net as he prepares smoked fish to sell.


According to locals from Bagasola, the immediate surroundings of Dar Es Salam refugee camp and Dar al-Naim site for internally displace people were submerged beneath Lake Chad as recently as the 1970s. Since then, the lake's surface has been shrinking rapidly. Today, this land is permanently dry, though the soil's salinity is high, affecting the livelihoods of surrounding communities.


Refugees in the Dar Es Salam camp use the branches of surrounding trees as firewood. Due to rapid desertification of the lake and the influx of people, deforestation is of acute concern. Humanitarian organisations say more funding is needed to introduce more efficient energy, including improved cooking stoves and heating methods.

Hawali Oumar, 43, visits his mother after returning from fishing and plays with one of his nieces. Oumar finds it difficult being away from his family but his work requires him to stay by the shrinking lake's shoreline.


Hawali Oumar sells raw and dried fish. When he lands a larger catch, he will smoke the fish as this is popular in the region.

Saleh Youssef, 42, is the leader of 1,700 displaced Chadian Arabs who fled Boko Haram violence. Settling in the Dar al-Naim camp, Youssef is setting an example by planting a garden of fruit trees. Formerly a nomadic herder, he believes that his community needs to begin farming and adapt to sedentary life.


Chadian refugee, Saleh Youssef, leads a morning meeting with the council of Dar al-Naim camp. As the leader of this 1,700-person community, Youssef is preoccupied with availability of water, resources for farming, as well as access to education and healthcare.
Chadian displaced people at Dar al-Naim camp queue to fetch water in the early morning. This community has only two wells, one of which is temporarily damaged. Previously nomadic herders, these internally displaced Chadian Arabs are increasingly in need of water sources as their life becomes more sedentary.


A view of Lake Chad from the air shows the invasive plants that cover about half of the lake's surface, significantly hampering fishing. This phenomenon is due to deforestation around the lake and subsequent soil erosion which uproots plants and sends them floating.