Lake Nyos Disaster. 32 Years After

August 21, 1986, will forever remain engraved in the minds of Cameroonians in general and the people of Oku in particular when an  eruption at Lake Nyos  Northwest Cameroon killed 1,746 people and 3,500 livestock. Emmanuel NGOTA

August 21, 1986 to August 21, 2018, 32 years after the eruption triggered the sudden release of about 100,000–300,000 tons (1.6m tons, according to some sources) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Nyos village, North West Region.

One of the survivors is Joseph Nkwain from Subum, who recounted that when he woke up after the gases had struck he was unable speak and immediately became unconscious. He added that “I could not open my mouth because then I smelled something terrible. I heard my daughter snoring in a terrible way, very abnormal, when crossing to my daughter’s bed. I collapsed and fell. I was there till nine o’clock in the (Friday) morning until a friend of mine came and knocked at my door. I was surprised to see that my trousers were red, had some stains like honey. I saw some starchy mess on my body. My arms had some wounds and I didn’t really know how I got these wounds. This was just the least of cases recounted by Joseph Nkwain.

The government of Cameroon was bitterly touched by this sad event as it offered help to the survivors amongst which; school materials worth FCFA 17 million, food supplies worth FCFA 10 million, needs of ageing persons worth FCFA 3 million and sanitary kits worth FCFA 3 million, summing up to FCFA 33 million. On its part, the Civil Protection contributed enormously in the reinstallation of the population, environment, protection and development of infrastructure. He continued that the projects are presently going on and will soon be completed, depending on the contractors.

Scientist holds that about 85 percent of gas in the Lake has been removed and the degree of fear around this environment has been reduced, but I am not saying that it is completely safe. They are putting in all the efforts to see that all the gas in this Lake is removed and there should be no fear of any explosion from Lake Nyos. The assertion that Lake Nyos is still not safe is contradictory.

The scale of the disaster led to much study on how a recurrence could be prevented. Several researchers proposed the installation of degassing columns from rafts in the middle of the lake. The principle is to slowly vent the CO2 by lifting heavily saturated water from the bottom of the lake through a pipe, initially by using a pump, but only until the release of gas inside the pipe naturally lifts the column of effervescing water, making the process self-sustaining.

Starting from 1995, feasibility studies were successfully conducted, and the first permanent degassing tube was installed at Lake Nyos in 2001. Two additional pipes were installed in 2011.

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