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How Do I Tell A Child That Climate Change Is Destroying Her Home?

04/26/2017 05:02 EDT | Updated 04/26/2017 05:04 EDT

Climate change is about much more than polar bears -- it is about the lives of millions of children around the world who are at risk of climate-related disasters. For Earth Day, we present you eight-year-old Aïta Abakar. Aïta had never heard of the shrinking Lake Chad issue. She used to live in Boulargi, an island of the lake, before her family was chased by Boko Haram.

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(Photo: ©UNICEF/Chad/Bahaji)

The meeting had begun badly. Aïta Abakar, smiling and looking a little intimidated, was seated beside us in the shade of a tree when she jumped abruptly at the hissing of a snake passing behind her back. "There are plenty of snakes on the lake shore, so before sitting down, we normally sweep the floor with sticks to make them flee," she said while moving dust around with a palm tree branch she had picked up from the ground.

After regaining our senses and choosing a quieter place to talk, Aïta began to tell her story, at length. "I have never known anything but my island, my house, and my dad's canoe. The first time I left my house was when Boko Haram attacked our village. I don't know if I will ever get back," she said.

"But it's not fair, you have to help! I want the lake to exist forever."
-- Aïta Abakar, 8

As you approach Lake Chad, the air is dusty, and the sparse vegetation is broken only by shrubs. The lives of this region's inhabitants are on the edge as the lake dries up before their eyes. We mentioned the shrinking Lake Chad issue to Aïta but she had never heard of it. I took bits of straw, sticks, and leaves to explain that the Lake Chad she knows is disappearing.

"But if the water from the lake disappears, the thirst will kill us, and we will not find any more fish," she replies, worried. The young people sitting next to us laughed. I asked her if she understands why the lake is getting smaller and smaller. She thought for a moment, and said, "It's probably because many villages drill the ground to build water points and they finish all the water." The young people who had been laughing earlier were now surprised by the girl's pertinent comment.

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(Photo: ©UNICEF/Chad/Bahaji)

We also talked about global warming and the fact that temperature will rise in the years to come. She cut me off: "It's already too hot here, we need water. Every day, I help my sister fetch water at the only pump of the village. As for me, I'm mostly doing the dishes and washing the clothes."

I asked her if she can think of any solution because it will be up to children, the adults of tomorrow, to search for solutions. She looked at me for a moment and exclaimed, "But it's not fair, you have to help! I want the lake to exist forever."

Children in industrialized countries are told not to leave any light or electrical appliance on, not to waste tap water, to walk or ride a bicycle rather than drive. Here in Tagal, there is no electricity, no tap and no car. Yet, children in the Lake Chad area will be the first to be affected by climate change. After saying goodbye to Aïta, I realized how crucial it is to teach kids how to be engaged citizens and show them there is still time to do something about climate change without scaring them.

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(Photo: ©UNICEF/Chad/Bahaji)

Recent studies show that the lake's surface area in the past 50 years has been reduced from the initial 25,000 square kilometres to less than 2,500 due largely to its waters drying up. Environment experts attribute this to increasing temperatures from global warming. This has had a harsh impact on the 20 million people whose livelihood heavily depends on Lake Chad.

Badre Bahaji is a Communication Officer with UNICEF Chad in N'djamena

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