Defusing Africa's Killer Lakes

In a remote region of Cameroon, an international team of scientists takes extraordinary steps to prevent the recurrence of a deadly natural disaster

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Though the Cameroon military had driven out most of those who had not fled the area on their own, Che, living on high ground, was allowed to remain, along with his wife and children, who had also survived. However, his uncle's seven children had been orphaned by the disaster, and tradition required Che to adopt them all, bringing his brood to 11. Che's income has been boosted by the foreign scientists working in the area, who pay him to measure lake levels and guard equipment, among other things.

As for Halima Suley, she and her husband now have five youngsters born to them since the tragedy. Just before dawn one morning, we hiked up to Suley and Ahmadou's new compound, located in a narrow pass above the lake. As a cooling breeze sprang up, we glimpsed thatched huts and cattle fencing coming into view. Out back, Ahmadou milked the cows; the herd numbers only 40 now. Suley greeted us in the family's perfectly swept yard with her children—from 15-year-old Ahmadou to 2-year-old Nafih. Suley made sweet tea with fresh milk and cradled the little one. "I'm no more thinking about the disaster," she says. "I have more children. I'm thinking about the children I have now." She smiled. "The only problem is a lack of cattle to feed them and to pay for them to go to school."

Ahmadou says, "If I think about what I was, what the family was, I can go crazy. So I try not to. We are believers. Your children can survive you, or you can survive your children—it is all in the hands of God." He says he appreciates the scientists' work. "When we feel their presence, we are much more peaceful, because we think something is being done." But, he admits, "When they leave, we live in fear."


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