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Friday, June 24, 2022

Security concerns, weak support hinder Africa’s green wall

By Wanjohi Kabukuru and Sam Mendick | The Associated Press

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – A series of complex challenges, including a lack of funding and political will, as well as growing insecurity linked to extremist groups al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Burkina Faso, are hindering progress on Africa’s Great Green Wall. Experts involved in the initiative.

There have been some modest benefits to the project, which plans to create an 8,000-kilometre (4970 mi) long forest through 11 countries across the width of Africa to hold back the ever-growing Sahara Desert and prevent the effects of climate change. But many involved in the plan are calling for renewed momentum in tackling both insecurity and environmental degradation.

Since work began on the Green Wall 15 years ago, just 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) of land has been reforested – just 4% of the program’s ultimate goal.

Adama Dolkom, coordinator of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative in Burkina Faso, said political instability and security issues are holding back progress in some 4,000 villages across the country.

“Terrorist attacks in the affected areas have forced the population to disperse. This limits people’s movements, making it difficult for us to directly monitor field actions which can lead to difficulties in making improvements in some areas,” Dolcom said.

The Sahel, north and east regions of Burkinabe have become inaccessible over the past three years. Much of the Sahelian region designated for the Green Wall is fraught with security issues, with efforts from Sudan, Ethiopia, Mali, Chad, Niger and Nigeria all affected.

The UN’s desertification agency said the plan had several additional challenges to overcome, such as tepid high-level political support, weak organizational structures, inadequate coordination and funding, and not adequate consideration of national environmental priorities.

The Great Green Wall was featured prominently at the UN agency’s two-week summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, which ended on Friday. Desertification, which has serious implications for food production and security, has been exacerbated by climate change and agricultural activities.

First proposed in 2005, the program aims to plant a forest from Senegal on the Atlantic Ocean in the west to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti in the east. The initiative is expected to create millions of green jobs in rural Africa, reduce the level of climate-related migration in the region and capture hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Several countries have struggled to meet the demands of the project, with Mali, Nigeria, Djibouti and Mauritania particularly lagging behind.

The United Nations Desertification Agency says that 45% of Africa’s land is affected by desertification, making it more vulnerable than any other continent. The agency’s director, Ibrahim Thiaw, believes there could be a number of negative impacts on surrounding communities, including safety concerns.

A report released on Sunday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute also mentioned the link between environmental degradation and conflict. “In the Sahel, social tensions combined with inadequate governance and environmental degradation to pose a major security risk,” it said.

“By restoring land, you reduce conflict and irregular migration. There is a link between land reclamation and irregular migration,” said Ibrahim Thiaw. “Land restoration is a no-remorse option in that any effort to recover soil health, replenish natural capital, and restore land health will provide benefits far outweighing costs.”

“Right now we are taking action to expedite the implementation of such programs to ensure that farmers, pastoralists, local communities and women are all connected,” he said.

Despite the many setbacks, those involved in the project remain optimistic. Great Green Wall coordinator Elvis Tangem told the Associated Press that while the conflict has slowed the project’s progress, it has also opened up new opportunities.

“It started as an environmental project but the dynamism of the area has enabled us to go beyond the ecological aspects of the project and embrace direct community concerns such as conflict resolution, peace building, youth development, women empowerment and rural development, particularly pastoral. And rural development is made to embrace the farming community,” he said.

According to the program’s coordinating office in Addis Ababa, some progress has been made in recent years in the east of the continent.

Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan have all expanded their efforts, with Ethiopia producing 5.5 billion saplings, restoring thousands of hectares of land as well as increasing job creation. Efforts in Eritrea and Sudan have resulted in reforestation of approximately 140,000 hectares (346,000 acres).

Niger is also commended for making great strides.

“In terms of measurable restoration milestones on the ground, Niger can be said to be far ahead of most countries in contributing to significant citizen awareness and reforestation activities at all levels,” said Tabi Joda, Great Green Wall Ambassador. “More communities are embracing the initiative and leading through their own community-led solutions.”

Joda, who led the youth movement for the project, said the plan has received strong government support in Senegal and Nigeria.

World Nation News Desk
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