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Lake Chad Cultural Landscape (Nigeria)

Date of Submission: 07/11/2018
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(vii)(ix)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
National Commission for Museums and Monuments
State, Province or Region:
Borno and Yobe States
Coordinates: N13 16 30.09 E13 55 33.85
Ref.: 6360
Other States Parties participating
Other Tentative Lists
Paysage culturel du lac Tchad

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The Lake Chad is a vast area of fresh water located in the middle of sand dunes which covers territories in 4 countries: Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Paleography informs us that the Lake Chad has been constantly evolving with respect to the environmental conditions. Its geology has undergone variations which are the object of numerous controversies. The current area is around 17,000 km2 (measured during its high point at the end of the rainy season). It is an endorheic lake fed mainly by the Logone Chari and Komadougou watercourses.

This ecosystem contains a great variety of wet zones which include open water, polders, temporary or permanent ponds, some of them being rich in natron. Around the lake, sand deserts and water meet in a complex network of meanders which are sometimes cultivated. Receding waters in dry season expose wide floodplains on the banks of the lake. They shelter water plants such as papyrus and spirulina but also numerous animal species such as the migratory birds, which use these plains as resting areas.

A peculiar feature of the Lake Chad is the profusion of hundreds of islands and small islands, of which numerous are inhabited by several communities such as the Kotoko, Mouloui, Barma, Boulalan, Babalia, Kanembou, Haoussa, who live from its resources and rely on the resilience of the lake to perpetuate their ways of life. This cohabitation between Man and nature which has been perpetuated for centuries gives a true cultural landscape dimension to this vast lake.

The earliest human presence around the lake can be traced to the Paleolithic era. The most ancient civilization known is the Sao Civilization, composed of people groups who certainly came from the Nile valley around the 5th century to populate the lake’s surroundings. The Sao people’s history is inseparable from the lake. They left numerous ethnographic and archaeological remains which teach us that they lived mainly from fishing, hunting and farming. Their rich pottery and everyday objects also show that they were great artists. The fishing, hunting and farming practices of the Sao people constitute the heritage of their descendants today.

Description of the component part(s)

The Lake Chad consists of cultural and natural values. The Chad Basin National Park (Lake Chad Nigeria Section) occupies a total of 2,258sq.km and is located between Borno and Yobe states in the extreme north-eastern corner of Nigeria.

The Park is generally described as being in the conventional basin of the famous but rapidly shrinking Lake Chad. The vegetation is typical Sudan Guinea Savannah, except in the most northern part where it takes on more Sahelian nature, partly due to the influence of intense human activities. The park has three distinct sectors in Borno and Yobe States, separated by hundreds of kilometers. These are the Chingurmi-Duguma sector, the Bade-Nguru Wetlands and the Bulatura Oases. The Chingurmi-Duguma sector is dominated by Acacia-Balanites woodland complex interspaced with dense stands of elephant grass (sorghum aethsopiump) in definitely stratified form that add to the natural beauty of the ecosystem.

The Bulataru Oases in the sand dunes cover an area of 92sq.km made up of a series of fertile interdunal depressions (swampy valleys) referred to as oases. The sand dunes are described as “mobile desert hills” and create a highly scenic eco-tourist attraction. A large part of the Park is flooded by water from the River Dorma during the rainy season creating flood plains and wetlands which attract water birds and other wildlife species, a great spectacle for visitors. The Chad Basin remains the only existing stronghold of Giraffe and Ostrich in Nigeria. The Lake Chad environment presents an exceptional mosaic of plant formations forming as many biotopes, oasis and wet zones of international importance.

This site shelters a great diversity of fauna. Among the remarkable species, we can cite the hippopotamus, the crocodile of the Nile, the varanus of the Nile, the tortoise, the sea turtle and the otter. We also count around 120 fish species, among which are the Tilapia sp, Clarias Gariepinus, Heterotis niloticus, Lates nlotivus and Bagrus sp. Besides, the Lake Chad is an important ecological niche for thousands of migratory birds. More than 350 bird species have been listed there. The Lake Chad is a wet zone of international importance (Ramsar sites) recognized in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

The annual rainfall varies from 200 to 400 mm from North to South, whereas the annual average temperature oscillates between 35°C and 40°C. The relative humidity is low during a long period of the year. In spite of the Sahelian climate with a very short rainy season and a long dry season, the riverside communities were able to tame the forces of nature to ensure their survival.

Culturally, the history of the Lake Chad is known thanks to the writings of Arabic travelers, the archaeological works and the oral traditions which still stand the test of time. The archaeological excavations demonstrate the existence of a human settlement structured on the Lake Chad around the 5th century by the Sao people, ancestors of the Kotoko people, who would have come from the North to establish cities protected by great walls.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Furthermore the Dagona Waterfowl Sanctuary in the Bade-Nguru Wetlands is an internationally recognized habitat for waterfowl and is extremely important for wintering Palaearctic migrant species especially from Europe as well as a breeding habitat for others. Some of the species that are frequently sighted in large numbers include Garganey, Pintails, Pelicans and a variety of Waders. Two species of global conservation concern, Circus macrourus and Gallinago media occasionally winter here.

Criterion (ii): Due to its strategic geographical position near Sahara, the Lake Chad has always been a crossroad of trade exchanges and the place of ceaseless cultural exchanges. It is also a place in which nomad and sedentary people live together. Today still, farming, breeding and fishing products reach the Atlantic Coast, most particularly in Cameroon and Nigeria. This oasis basin was adapted to supply the whole area with food, thanks to the forms adapted to farming, fishing and breeding. The seasonally flooded plains were equipped with dikes and polders for the development of farming and the production of seaweeds which would not have been possible in such dry areas. Rôniers, doums palm trees and date palms supply resources that are essential to the life on the lake. These diverse exchanges thus shaped the lakeside cultural landscape through the centuries, by promoting specific complementary vocations between peoples. They developed practices, production and space planning modes adapted to the environment on which their survival depended. The lake represented an element of connection between various communities of which the complementarity was ensured by the functional specialty of each of them (breeders, farmers and fishers in particular).

Criterion (iii): The Lake Chad is linked to the Sao civilization, which dates from the 5th century BC. This civilization, also known as “The Civilization of terracotta” which is extinct today, bequeathed an important heritage anchored in the communities’ cultural practices, in particular to the Kotoko who claim to be their descendants. The objects, stemming from archaeological excavations on the Sao sites, reveal a continuity with the current fishing practices and the treatment of fish in particular. Potteries, metal tools, fishing accessories or even traditional boats similar to those of the Sao are still made on the lake. The fishermen’s houses are the direct fruit of several centuries and sometimes even richly decorated as it is still found with the Kotoko of North-Cameroon.

Criterion (vii): The site is a lake in a desert ecosystem, shared between four countries. It is characterized by a succession of dunes of variable dimensions giving an exceptional beauty to it. Moreover, the Lake Chad has for peculiarity to be covered by hundreds of very spectacular islands in the middle of a desert environment. Characterized by an alternation of desert and vegetated areas, the Lake Chad presents a unique landscaped beauty. The natural landscape with its varied components present a unique combination of features that offer a thrilling vista for tourists that has witnessed visits from notable dignitaries around the world as well as being a natural gallery of picturesque scenes captured in various photographic mementos.

Criterion (ix): The Lake Chad area presents a great diversity of ecosystems that are usually not met in dry regions. This mosaic of plant formation which alternates from woody savannas and wet zones make of the lake an important oasis for biodiversity, in particular for thousands of sedentary and migratory birds. The ichtyofaune is also rich and varied, with around 120 inventoried fish species. The Lake Chad’s ecological and biological processes follow a natural functioning of which the balance remains stable. The important hydrographic system allows to maintain water in any season of the year in some parts of the Lake Chad. The existence of endangered species including migratory bird species who are dependent on the ecological resources of the basin is one of the conservation impetus for sustainable management activities and conservation interventions to preserve this natural habitat which also is the source of water for a large human and animal population.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The Lake Chad and its islands, with an area of 17,000 km2, maintain their natural morphology which gorges this cultural landscape on which human communities developed. They ensured their resilience to very dry climates which sometimes engendered strong reductions of the water level. Indeed, in front of this sterile place represented by the Sahara, the lake is the source of a fragile life requiring a reasoned management of resources, which the local communities have managed to do for centuries.
The multi-secular use of the islands to fish or raise cattle and the arrangement of the bank to farm do not affect the landscape in its integrity. On the contrary, it is these activities respectful of their environment which respond to the traditional forms of a management that has always been respected. The lake is until now protected from industrial activities which would have engendered the pollutions or destructions of its ecosystem. The physical realities of the land limits its exploitation to artisanal forms. Industrial fishing for example is not possible, the meanders and the low bed of the lake limiting the access to dugouts only, paddle or power-driven.
The water, islands, houses, fishermen’s shelters and their dugouts, dikes, and cultivated polders are many elements illustrating the traditional use of the landscape, making of the Lake Chad an eminent example of a local community living in harmony with nature. At an hour when humanity is remodeling the globe’s surface with disproportionate arrangements, the Lake Chad is an example of respect of integrity. The withdrawn resources are tiny because the houses are very humble by their size and by the resources that their construction demands. The withdrawn of earth and plant material do not result to the morphological transformation of the landscape nor to a generalized deforestation of the geographical area.
The traditional forms of management of the social relations and of the link between human being and nature still exist. The local authorities established by the central administration of the four countries of the Lake Chad is supported by these traditional management mechanisms without competing them.


The landscape of Lake Chad in general, its physical components and the rural architecture of its villages testify to the consistent pattern of living without major transformation in the way of living since the 5th century. The fragmentation of the landscape in islands and small islands without connectivity guarantees the preservation of the cultural landscape as it has not experienced major urban development. The complex structure of canals between the islands and the bad quality of the tracks connecting the lake with the basin’s big urban centers (Maiduguri and N’Djaména for example) have always enclosed the lake geographically, and consequently slowed down the intrusion of industrial materials such as cement or sheet steel. The loss of vernacular constructive cultures which is generally observed in the rest of Africa does not affect the lake and its neighborhood yet, which continues to use techniques and local building materials (earth, wood, diverse fibers). The houses strike by their humility and uniformity. The rare available materials and the necessity of protecting oneself from heat, winds and rains imposed logical choices of form and orientation that everybody naturally repeats. Numerous islands present micro-villages made of houses built on the same model which depicts a real harmony between man’s developments and the elements of nature.

The difficulties faced by the lake’s communities in terms of economic development have been an obstacle for the massive importation of building material and industrial consumer goods. Only the sustainable traditional forms of building, transportation and farming are accessible, which ensure the persistence of the authenticity of the ways of life that have taken place for centuries. This continuity confers an impression of serenity and thoughtful management of resources which is opposite to the visual and sound anarchy of the basin’s big cities. Some of the activities having disappeared from cities because of their replacement by electric equipment are still in use in the lake basin such as the embroidery, the ironing with mallet, the use of traditional musical instruments or the grinding of cereal with mortar.

The most remarkable forms of gap to authenticity are in transportation, with the introduction in some places of motor-boats which are bigger and faster than traditional dugouts, and the bearing of shirts of famous soccer players by young people, which do not have anything authentic. But these elements are minor in regard to the preservation of the architecture and the arrangement of landscape which remain profoundly authentic.
The recurring problems of safety also protected the banks of the lake from uncontrolled tourist developments which were observed on the coasts of the whole planet. If the near total absence of tourism is regrettable on the economic level, it also guaranteed a persistence of healthier activities ensuring the resilience of the communities. It is however necessary to raise that the tensions related to the current presence of terrorists sometimes lead to the migration of groups of people who run away from their exactions, but the inhabitants often return to their lands.

It is also important to highlight the low pollution by plastic waste of the lake and its banks, the use of packed industrial products being very limited.

Justification of the selection of the component part(s) in relation to the future nomination as a whole

The Nigerian part of the Lake Chad, the diversity and the number of waterbirds frequenting the lake result from the conservation of its landscapes as well as the preservation of its accommodation facilities for migratory birds. This is an indicator of the good state and functioning of the ecosystem.
The permanent swamps and the temporary wetlands of the Chad composant are the two (2) different ecological zones in which vegetation plays a particularly important role. It is a shallow lake of Africa with freshwater, which is rare for an endorheic lake. The pets, the Kouri cow is also symbolic of the lake. The elements of this pure cattle breed deserve to be conserved for zootechnic purposes. The property has been a center of trades development and cultural exchanges between northern and southern countries of Sahara for centuries.

The nomination of the Lake Chad as a cultural landscape would contribute to the conservation and valorization of its exceptional cultural and natural values. The Chad Basin National Park shares the same ecosystem with the Waza National Park in the Republic of Cameroon to the east. Its Wetlands and Oases are very important in the mitigation of the desertification process in north-eastern Nigeria and the overall conservation management efforts of the Chad Basin as a whole.

Comparison with other similar properties

The cultural landscape of Lake Chad is comparable to other properties such as: the Lakes of Ounianga, the Ennedi Massif, the Tanganyka Lake, the Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley, the Okavango Delta, the West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou and the Ahwar of Southern Iraq. The Lake Chad is characterized by an exceptional beauty translated by the presence of the Tall desert and an association of dunes of variable sizes on one hand, and by dynamic ecological and biological processes of its numerous wet zones on the other hand. The natural values are almost identical to those of the Okavango Delta, the Lakes of Ounianga and the Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley in Africa; but they are also comparable to those of the West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou in China and the Ahwar of Southern Iraq.

Indeed, the cultural landscape of Lake Chad shares common characteristics with many more sites of the planet, being a source of life at the doors of a vast desert, which makes it precious for the Man and the biosphere in general. What characterizes this lake, apart from its impressive area of 17,000 km2, are the hundreds of islands and small islands spangling its surface, which shelter villages of fishermen and colonies of wild animals. None of the great lakes of the planet are covered with such a large number of islands. No lake presents such a vast network of islands on which Man and nature live together. This labyrinth of land plots and interlaced inlets remind those of other refuge landscapes such as those of the Ahwars of Irak where the Man and numerous animal species find a precious shelter. This complex landscape morphology and the geopolitical tension which, unfortunately, undermine the region, preserved the lake from major changes which could have upset its social, environmental and cultural balance. The nuisances from which numerous lakes of the planet suffer such as tourism or polluting industrial activities do not exist in the Lake Chad. Tourism is completely absent because of safety reasons and of the lack of infrastructure, and there is no oil exploitation or other polluting industries on the banks of the lake.

Moreover, from its cultural values, the landscape of the Lake Chad is a development area of the Sao civilization, said “civilization of terracotta” (13th century), which is older than the one of Ahwar. Therefore, it is an ancient civilization area based on the terracotta and the traditional architecture.
Lastly, the World Heritage List does not contain any inhabited lakeside cultural landscape at present. The only lake inscribed as a cultural landscape is the West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzou in China. Its nomination conveys to the pictorial beauty of the lake of which the esthetics were improved by the Man to create paintings that would inspire numerous writers, painters and poets. This Chinese cultural landscape is visited as a piece of art, but is not inhabited. This dimension of a lakeside landscape decorated with refinement by reported elements has nothing to do with this nomination proposal of the Cultural Landscape of Lake Chad, which wishes to put forward the capacity of the human being to develop a way of life ensuring its physical security, its resilience and its harmony with the environment.