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August 20, 2019

Faculty and staff from the University of Oklahoma recently returned from the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, where they attended the International Conference on the Lake Chad Basin Region: U.N. Systems and Non-State Actors Exploring New Ways of Cooperation. The conference, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations and co-hosted by OU Outreach, in partnership with other international co-hosts and co-organizers, was held Aug. 5-6, 2019, and televised around the world.

Conference attendees from across the globe spent two days discussing the complex needs of the Lake Chad Basin. Since 1963, Lake Chad has dissipated from an area of 25,000 square kilometers to 2,500 square kilometers, significantly affecting the countries of Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. More than 30 million Africans living in the region are facing economic hardship and insecurity including climate trends, agricultural practices, policies, education and funding.

Lawrence Freeman, a political-economic analyst for Africa, has written that the loss of Lake Chad would be catastrophic for the African continent and can only be reversed by transferring quantities of water from outside the Lake Chad Basin region. The United Nations is seeking to collaborate with the Nigerian leadership to raise $50 billion to begin addressing the dire needs of this region.

Belinda Biscoe, Ph.D., interim senior associate vice president, OU Outreach, said it was an honor to be an integral part of planning, organizing and co-hosting such an important conference.

“My team and I, through the University of Oklahoma Outreach, applied three years ago to become members of the Academic Impact initiative, an organization through the United Nations where universities can come together to leverage their academic research and expertise to weigh in on international issues,” Biscoe said. “I think what was especially exciting for me was the opportunity to highlight my own research, as well as some of the research of our OU faculty.”

“It will take a long a time for change to come, but what happened at the conference was an exchange of ideas. If it starts the ball rolling in any way, we’ve succeeded beyond any dream.”

Biscoe worked with the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to put together the agenda and identify experts from around the world who could speak on the issue. She also facilitated a panel on capacity building, based on the High Impact Technical Assistance (HI-TA) model she developed, (Routledge Publication, in press 2020). Serving on the panel were Kim Klockow-McClain, Ph.D., a research scientist with OU’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS); OU professor Yang Hong, Ph.D., director of the hyDROS Laboratory; Mike Barbee with Water4, Oklahoma City, OK; and Ron Beadle with Food for the Hungry and founder of Engineers in Action.

“The panel focused on multi-stakeholder partnerships and the research behind my capacity-building model, as well as the implications for work in this region,” Biscoe said. “The panel also presented some of their research that tied into my capacity-building model.”

Klockow-McClain said it was an honor to be invited to serve on the panel and learn more about the United Nations process. She said the experience validated her own research, and she found her work as a behavioral scientist with the weather community was easily transferable to the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region.

“Their problems are so deep. It will take a long a time for change to come, but what happened at the conference was an exchange of ideas. If it starts the ball rolling in any way, we’ve succeeded beyond any dream,” she said. “This opportunity undoubtedly took the investments I’ve put into my research and allowed me to use them in ways I never could imagine myself.”

Other speakers, panelists and activities focused on meeting the needs of the region according to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals that were developed to erase poverty and provide basic necessities such as clean sanitation, water and education for all parts of the world.

Although they weren’t on the panel, other OU staff attended the conference, including Anthony Natale, Ph.D., interim executive director of OU Outreach’s Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies and associate professor in the school of social work, Ajia Meux, project development manager for the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies, and Angela Pearson, Ph.D., and Suchismita Bhattacharjee from the OU College of Architecture.

Biscoe said opportunities like the Lake Chad conference are important because they are one way the university can connect its research to real-world problems.

“To get a spotlight on the research OU professors are doing in that kind of international forum promotes us as a public university that is focusing its research on a deeper understanding of essential solutions around intractable problems around the globe,” Biscoe said. “To me, at the end of the day, it’s about making a difference to improve the quality of life for people in our communities as well as communities around the world.”

Biscoe said she plans to meet with the OU group who attended the conference to talk about the experience, explore ways to continue the work they started and discuss how to include others from the university in their efforts to find sustainable solutions for the region.

For more information about the conference and the crisis in the Lake Chad regions, visit our Conference Page