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Expansion of the Sahara
According to a 2018 study conducted by scientists at the University of Maryland, the Sahara Desert has grown by about 10% since 1920. Deserts are defined by their low annual rainfall average (four inches or less). The researchers of this study analyzed the rainfall data of the Sahara and surrounding areas from 1920 to 2013 and found that the area in Northern Africa with less than four inches of annual rainfall was progressively getting bigger. As the Sahara grows, it encroaches on abundant, fertile, and rich savanna ecosystems.
Cause of Growth
The same study conducted by the University of Maryland found human-caused climate change, natural climate cycles and overgrazing to be the culprits of the growth of the Sahara. The researchers concluded that about two-thirds of the expansion of the Sahara could be attributed to natural climate cycles, and one-third could be attributed to climate change.
Like all deserts, the Sahara expands in dry winters and contracts in the wet summers. In Africa, however, rainy seasons are drying out at an alarming rate. According to Ming Cai, a program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, the trends of rainy seasons drying out in Africa are linked with increasing greenhouse gages and aerosols in the atmosphere.
Effect of Growth
The growth of the Sahara disturbing surrounding ecosystems is known as desertification. Desertification, simply put, is the process where dry, fertile land becomes desert. This is one of the biggest environmental challenges facing the planet because, as the world's population continues to grow, a reduction in fertile land with enough rainfall to support crops could be detrimental to humanity. The expansion of the Sahara predominantly occurred at the northern and southern ends of the desert, a large part of this being the Sahel. Nowhere is the issue of desertification more pressing than in the sub-Sahara, where about 500 million people live on land undergoing desertification.
The Sahel spans the southern edge of the Sahara—the area of transition between the Sahara and the Sudanian savanna. The Sahel was once a green and lush region that supported millions of lives over many generations. It slowly started to degrade and became increasingly dry and infertile. The lack of fertile land to grow food soon spiraled into poverty, food and water shortages, conflicts over natural resources and forced migration. The Green Front
In 1952, during an expedition in the South Sahara desert, Richard St. Barbe Baker—an English biologist and environmental activist—had the idea to fight back the desert. His idea was a 4,700-mile-long line of vegetation, running entirely from the east coast to the west coast of Africa. The idea began to gain momentum in the 1980s, shortly after the Sahel became harshly degraded.
In 2007, the concept of fighting back the desert with vegetation resurfaced as the Great Green Wall under the leadership of the African Union. This African-led initiative brings together more than twenty countries, including Algeria, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. Major international partners include the United Nations Environment Programme, The World Bank, and the European Union. More than eight million dollars have been mobilized and pledged for the Great Green Wall.
From Senegal to Djibouti
The goal of this movement is a simple one: grow an 4,970-mile-long natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa. Grow vegetation to stop the growth of the Sahara desert. Once complete, the wall will be largest natural living structure on the planet—three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Green Wall is expected to be complete by 2030.
By 2030, the movement aims to restore 100 million hectares of land that is currently degraded, capturing and storing 250 million tonnes of carbon (carbon sequestration) and create 10 million jobs in rural areas. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, this project will help communities living besides the wall to:
Grow fertile land, one of humanity’s most precious natural assets
Grow economic opportunities for the world’s youngest population
Grow food security for the millions that go hungry every day
Grow climate resilience in a region where temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth
Grow a wonder of the world spanning 4,970 miles across Africa
Since its launch in 2007, major progress has been made in the restoration of the Sahel. In Senegal, 12 million drought resistant trees have been planted in less than a decade. In Burkina Faso, 3 million hectares of land have been rehabilitated through local practice used by communities called the Zaï. The Zaï is a traditional practice invented by farmers in Burkina Faso to rehabilitate degraded land and to restore soil fertility. In Ethiopia, 15 million hectares of degraded land has been restored. In Niger, 5 million hectares of land has been restored, delivering an additional 500,000 tonnes of grain per year—enough to feed 2.5 million people. In Nigeria, 5 million hectares of land has been restored. Even more dramatic is the Great Green Wall’s potential social impact. The BBC has reported that the progress and improvement in the land quality and economic opportunity in Mali may help to damper terrorism in the country.
How to help
The greatest contribution you can make to the movement is by spreading the word. By creating a global movement, Africa's goal of a 4,970-mile-long wonder can be ignited. By making the Great Green Wall famous around the world, citizens from all over can help put pressure on governments to invest in the future of Africa and, in turn, the future of the world.
By Talulla Torthe