The Great Living Wall of Africa

Each year the giant Sahara desert gets bigger. It is slowly encroaching southward swallowing up all land within its sandy path. The Sahara is the largest desert on the planet and comprises over 3.3 million square miles (8.6 million square kilometers) covering most of the Northern part of Africa. 

Its reach has expanded by over 10% in the last decade and it seems there is nothing that can stop its advance unless the great living wall initiative has something to say about it.

The Great Living Wall 

The great living wall initiative was launched in 2007 by the African Union in an attempt to slow the spread of the great desert. The ambitious mission is to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land across 11 countries by 2030. The end result will be a 5,000 mile long by 9-mile wide band of vegetation and trees that will span from Senegal to Djibouti. 

Map of the living wall – courtesy CNN

The Sahel region, a semi-arid belt that lies south of the Sahara desert and stretches across the continent acts as a natural barrier from the approaching desert, has taken the brunt from the Sahara’s relentless advance. 

Soil quality in this region is diminishing and water is becoming increasingly scarce as well as vegetation which is leading to food scarcity and famine. This area is rife with conflicts, from the unrest and violence in Mali to the terrorist activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria – instability is commonplace.

Where is the Funding?

This project has had sporadic and inadequate funding which has made progress slow. But earlier this year it was announced that 14 billion dollars would be injected into the project to give it a much-needed jumpstart. France, the World Bank, and other donors pledged these funds and will close the gap to the estimated 33 billion dollars that will be needed to complete the wall.

Status of the Wall

Less than ten years from the completion goal, there is a lot of planting to be done. 4 million hectares have already been planted – most in Ethiopia which has produced 5.5 billion plants and seedlings. Other efforts have been tried in various countries to stymie the desert’s sprawl, such as digging boreholes, building terraces, and reforestation which have had little success.

Locals planting trees – courtesy CNN

More Than a Wall

While the purpose of the living wall is to prevent the advance of the desert, it will also provide millions of jobs for the local indigenes in the various nations. It will give families a source of income and purpose so they can maintain and raise their children. It will also enhance a community atmosphere, since there will need to be an all-in approach to ensure the wall prospers, “It is easy to plant a tree, but it is difficult to grow one” explained one of the officials on the ground. 

Where is Nigeria in This?

Progress has been slim to none in Nigeria, since our hands are full with other pressing issues, such as the Boko Haram crisis and other major infrastructural deficiencies, but if our officials get serious, we could help tie this living band together and improve lives.

This wall also has the chance to help stabilize the greater region and potentially uniting 11 African countries that would all benefit from a stable, conflict-free region – let’s hope this is a reality.

Roman Kingsley

Journalist based in the United States and Nigeria, focusing on Real Estate Development and the stories emerging in and around the built environment.

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