The Horn Of Africa States: Desertification And Water Supplies – OpEd

By Dr. Suleiman Walhad

The region faces multiple challenges, most of them man-made and hence could be handled. Others are natural such as volcanic activities, land formation, geological infrastructures and, in fact, strategic location. Both man-made and natural phenomenon, however, affect peoples’ lives in the region from food security to water availability to economic production in terms of agricultural, marine and pastoral production, that till this date, remain the main stay of livelihoods in the region.

The mounting population pressures and deforestation of the region have not been helpful for the region’s environment, and it is turning into a desert, with the soil erosion that follows every drop of rain when topsoil is washed away by the flash floods and rivers. The accelerated tree loss and the multitude of NGOs that come from many countries to live off the back of those poor citizens of the Horn of Africa States have almost succeeded in converting large parts of the region into inhabitable lands. However, it is not all doom and blue, for the region has also recently embarked on planting trees. Such plant reafforestation is linked to income generation in parts of the region, where communities are provided with the tools necessary for the conservation of the land and the water supplies.

In other parts, storm waters which used to be seen as a problem or which used to run away with much of the topsoil of the lands are being rechanneled into useful water either into dug-out land-water holds lined with plastic sheets to avoid seepage into the ground for later usage or spread to large plains to assist in plant re-invigoration and natural reafforestation.

The old thinking that animals, whether domestic or wild were not good for the lands is being revisited and all animals are being managed with respect to the land in some parts of the region. Instead of animals moving about unnecessarily, they are kept in protected environments and the plants and feedstock they eat are brought to them. This helps farmers to grow income-generating feedstock both for the domestic animals and the wild ones. The carnivorous animals are in danger themselves and need to be conserved for future generations and they should be managed. All of these processes are underway in the region, albeit at low levels, but should be improving in the future.

Managing grazing for both domestic and wildlife has worked in many arid and semi-arid lands and stopped desertification or reduced the pace of desertification. This practice coupled with tree planting by every citizen of the region in his backyard, at least, would change the region’s environment and climate effectively. The more trees there are, the more rain the region would receive, and this would halt the desertification process and hence the water supply.

A reafforestation of the region through managing not only the storm water supplies but also managing the grazing process would revitalize the ecology of the region. In the Horn of Africa States, it is said, that those who do not help themselves should not be helped. It is perhaps time that help to the people should be calibrated by the governments of the region on how much they contribute to the region in terms of each individual paying his/her taxes, each doing his/her job of either farming or animal husbandry or any other job they would be doing.

It is also time that NGOs were stopped to be used for channeling international aid to the region. The governments of the region should be the only channel handling all the funds intended for the region and there should accurate accountability of what they did with the funds, entrusted to them. Those who abuse the funds intended for any specific program (s) should block-listed and recorded in the annals of history.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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