Bulama Modusalim is the informal leader of a makeshift camp for IDPs displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in north-east Nigeria. Photograph: Patrick Kingsley for the Guardian
Bulama Modusalim, the leader of the informal camp in Maiduguri, took a group of villagers back to Konduga in August, after the government assured them it was safe. But when we went back we found that Boko Haram was still [in the surrounding area], says Modusalim. We went back and we found our houses were destroyed. We couldnt go further than 1km from the town, so we couldnt farm.
Eventually, the situation became so desperate that they went back to Maiduguri, despite the poverty they knew they would face there. In a choice between war and starvation, they would rather risk the latter.
Amid all this misery, Boko Haram is the most obvious explanation for what has gone wrong. Nearly everyone is running from the jihadis who still control significant parts of the Lake Chad basin. But what led to the groups rise in the first place? Local leaders say the group was initially able to present its fighters as victims of police brutality and more generally positioned Boko Haram as a radical alternative to the high levels of regional poverty and unemployment.
Lake Chad 1963-2005
But according to several interviewees, including the local governor, this social alienation was partly fuelled by rapid climate change. North-east Nigeria borders Lake Chad, a vast inland lake that supplies water to about 70 million people in four countries Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. But since the 1970s, it has shrunk by 90% from 25,000km
2 to less than 2,500km 2. And those who live near its former shores say this shrinkage is one indirect cause of violence in the region, and the subsequent displacement.
Modu Amsami, the IDP who runs the nine camps in Monguno, comes from the village of Gumnari, which was once just 2km from the lake. Now its 18km away.
In the 70s, you could put this tree in the lake, Amsami says, pointing at a nearby tree, and you wouldnt even see it. Now if I walked in there, the water wouldnt even reach my chest.
As a child, Amsamis father would tie him to a tree to stop him entering the lake and being eaten by crocodiles. Today there would be no need. The water is nowhere in sight and its difficult to even see a crocodile.
Modu Amsami stands next to a tree that he says would once have been submerged by Lake Chad. Now the waters would not reach his shoulders, he says. Photograph: Patrick Kingsley for the Guardian
All this has led to unemployment for thousands of fishermen and farmers including several people from Amsamis family. He reckons this worsened living conditions, created a wave of unemployed and disaffected youth and so helped fuel the anger and resentment that created Boko Haram. If the Lake Chad water was normal, says Amsami, all these problems [with Boko Haram] would be eliminated economically, because nobody would have time to do all these things.
According to the IOM, few of the roughly 35,000 Nigerians who have in Europe this year are fleeing from the insurgency in the north-east. But the west would be wise to take the Lake Chad crisis seriously, lest the millions seeking sanctuary in the region decide to move towards Europe. Lanzer says he is willing to bet a months salary that the proportion of people who will arrive in Europe from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and via Niger will grow substantially.
Shettima speaks in even starker terms: As long as the underlying problems that precipitate the crisis are not met, then there is a risk that more Nigerians will try to go to Europe.
At the moment, most of them are economic migrants, but if this madness is not solved, believe me you will see a mass of humanity trying to get to Europe via the Mediterranean.