Cameroon community to return home after lake explosion

 Volcanic gasses erupt from Lake Nyos in Cameroon, releasing deadly levels of CO2. (Photo: UNDP)
Volcanic gasses erupt from Lake Nyos in Cameroon, releasing deadly levels of CO2. Photo: UNDP

Nearly 1,700 people died in 1986 when Cameroon's Lake Nyos suddenly released deadly levels of carbon dioxide into the air following a build-up of the gas in the lake. Another 10,000 people were uprooted and 3,000 heads of livestock perished.

"I lost more than 21 members of my family and all our cattle after the explosion," said 45-year old Che Ephraim, a resident of the area at the time.

Highlights

  • UNDP and partners are helping to de-gas Cameroon's Laky Nyos, which released deadly levels of carbon dioxide in 1986, killing 1,700.
  • The explosion of Lake Nyos' has displaced 4,000 area inhabitants.
  • De-gassing efforts will allow area residents to again farm, fish and raise livestock, activities they have been unable to do for 26 years.

The lake, located on the flank of an inactive volcano, sits above magma and leaks carbon-dioxide into the water.

With the longer-term aim of returning displaced communities to their land and rebuilding livelihoods around the lake, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and partners have inserted two large-scale and open-ended pipes into the lake to allow controlled release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - a process called de-gassing.

The two pipes accompany a de-gassing pipe laid by Cameroon’s geological, mining and research community in 2001. The initial pipe was an experiment  supported by the Government of Cameroon and the European Union, who were seeking innovative ways of reducing the occurance of high levels of carbon dioxide, which caused the 200-metre-deep lake to ‘explode’ 25 years ago. 

Thanks to these de-gassing efforts, experts at the country’s Institute of Geological and Mining Research say the lake will be secure in two years, allowing former residents to return to their homes.

Authorities in the region of Menchum, where the lake is located, have put in place emergency response measures, including a solar-powered alarm system triggered by excessive carbon dioxide levels. They have also conducted first aid training and mapped out the location of safe havens in case of explosion.

A successful evacuation simulation was conducted in March 2011.

Lake Nyos is one of only three known ‘exploding lakes’ in the world, the others being Lake Monoun, also in Cameroon, and Lake Kivu in Rwanda.

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