Good news from the African Union comes in the form of a lush green wall that is in partnership with twenty countries on the continent. The seeds of the project, known as the ‘Great Green Wall’, were laid in 2007 to combat various issues the area was facing including climate change, drought, famine, conflict and migration.
To counter these problems, the idea is to build a wall of trees that sprawl from Senegal to Djibouti (across the entire width of Africa) to prevent the desert from taking over the region. The project, that is being hailed as the new wonder of the world, aims to restore Africa’s degraded landscapes and obstruct the region’s rapidly growing Sahara desert, which has grown in size by 10% over the last century. On completion, it will transform the area’s ecology as well as the millions of lives in one of the world’s poorest regions – the Sahel. It is also set to become the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef.
From migration to desertification: The many problems of the region
The human and ecological issues are deeply connected, especially in this part of the world where the daily impact of desertification and climate change is undermining the futures of millions of communities across the Sahel region.
To put things into perspective, since the last 50 years, the area has been heavily affected by recurrent periods of drought. This has led to the disappearance of livestock and the destruction of cereal crops. With no natural resources and an ever-increasing population, people in the area must choose between an uncertain future and migration. Limited resources and continuous loss of livelihoods due to land degradation and falling yields have led to conflicts over a shriveling resource base.
The statistics are harrowing. 46% of African land is degraded, jeopardizing the livelihoods of nearly two-thirds of the Continent’s population. About 20 million people in the Horn of Africa in 2017 declared on the verge of starvation following severe drought and food crises.
The project aims to tackle these issues by growing a green wonder
The aims of the project are multifold, benefiting the planet as well as the people. To begin with, it strikes the right balance between sustainability and uplifting lives of those in the region.
By creating a barrier against climate change running across the Sahel region, the wall will form a transitional zone between the arid Sahara desert to the north and the belt of humid savannas to the south. Doing this will provide food and water security, as well as employment to millions in the region. The project will also go beyond its namesake wall to also work towards establishing sustainable farming and livestock cultivation, promoting interfaith harmony, and breaking the cycle of migration.
Temperatures in the region are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth, and the project will also play a crucial role in developing resilience to climate change here. To achieve the goal, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification is a key partner in the initiative.
By growing green jobs and giving real incomes to families across the Sahel, the Great Green Wall hopes to promote harmony in the region.
What is the current status of this initiative?
So far, the initiative is roughly 15% underway. The project is over a decade in and has undergone many changes to overcome the hiccups along the way. In Ethiopia, 15 million hectares of degraded land has been restored, improving land tenure security. While in Senegal, around 11.4 million trees have been planted and 25 000 hectares of degraded land restored. About 20,000 jobs have been created in Nigeria, and in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, about 120 communities have been involved to create a green belt on over more than 2,500 hectares of degraded and dry land.
By 2030, the Wall aims to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million jobs in rural areas.