Reversing land degradation can ‘pre-empt and manage’ conflicts

To help prevent conflicts and at the same time protect the planet, “we all must tackle environmental degradation”, a top UN official told the Security Council on Thursday.

UN News

WFP/Giulio D’Adamo
Food assistance programmes in Chad promote sustainable agriculture and strengthen incomes and livelihoods.

In a virtual briefing on the humanitarian impact of continued degradation, peace and security, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Ibrahim Thiaw, reminded the Council that environmental protection was vital for “our health, our wealth and our wellbeing”. 

“If we, in a coordinated way, avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation we can better prevent and preempt and manage many conflicts in the world”, he maintained. 

Shifting threats

The UNCCD chief outlined that today’s threats have shifted from conflict between States to violence predominantly at the hands of non-State actors.

“An assessment of the root-causes of these conflicts shows that a large proportion have a link to the environment”, he stated, pointing to the abundance of natural resources that can be monetized, such as oil, minerals and wildlife or “the scarcity of land, water and vegetation”.

He noted that in arid lands, such as Africa’s Sahel region, violence often erupts over competition for land.

Conflict causes

Ecosystem degradation, resource competition or inequitable distribution of benefits also increase vulnerability and raises the risk of conflict, according to Mr. Thiaw.

However, he attested, environmental cooperation can “increase capacity to conflict management, prevention and recovery”.  

He said security concerns were not limited to violent conflict but also includes “sustainable livelihoods, health and wellbeing”.

The UNCCD chief asserted that rural-urban migration due to drought and desertification was additionally responsible for different types of violence. 

“Grievances against government might rise when agricultural outcomes are depressed by drought and its induced-out migration”, he said, as an example. 

Risks outpacing solutions

Against the backdrop that the world relies on ecosystems rooted in soil, Mr. Thiaw said that the economy is influenced by the land’s health, which “catalyzes the impact of environmental degradation on peace, security and stability”.

And he explained that the world’s capacity to address security risks driven by climate change and environmental degradation are not keeping pace with the changing landscape of threats.

Moving forward

Reducing environmental security risks should focus on “maintaining the earth’s life-support ecosystem generating water, food and clean air” and on improving “resource governance and social resilience to natural resource shocks and stresses”, he said.

He pointed out that protecting land could trigger a broad peace, stability and ecosystem recovery cycle, that yields “a constructive feedback loop extending far beyond an initial choice to protect the environment”.WFP/Rein SkullerudA World Food Programme project to build a dam in Niger provides local people with income for their work and enhances resilience to future droughts.

Tightrope of survival

In his briefing to the Council, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), spelled out that “from the Sahel and Lake Chad region to warzones around the globe, millions are suffering on the front lines of environmental degradation, climate change and conflict”.

He underscored that peace and security would not be established by focusing only on military and security measures to curb conflict and violence.

“We must ensure, those most at risk are urgent priorities”, said the top ICRC official, adding that building and protecting resilient communities from violence is “critical”.

Voice of youth

Also addressing the meeting, Inna Modja, Earth Ambassador and activist, said forced migration was increasing, causing many to flee the vast Sahel region, which stretches from west to east across Africa.

She encouraged the Council to invest in the region’s “youth and women” as major “agents of change”.

Herders turn desert into green

The home of Palzang, a Zoige herder, is on the northeastern margin of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, near the Yellow River. 
He has a handsome horse, a fond mother, a beautiful wife and a lovely daughter.

Palzang’s daughter was born in the season when he is busy planting grass.
Unfortunately, his wife passed away due to a heart attack in the winter of 2018. Since then, his heart was as freezing as the severe winter of that year. Even though the spring of grassland should come on time, and someone should do the anti-desertification campaign. 
“Her passing away might encourage me to make great efforts to the lives, now I plant grass and trees, these are all related to the lives,” said Palzang. 

Herders rely on yaks and sheep. Yaks and sheep rely on the grassland.
Palzang started thinking about the anti-desertification campaign since he was in school. He spent his childhood on green grassland. Then, he left home for school. Once he returned home for a winter vacation, he was shocked by the sandstorm that he had never seen before in his hometown. While the wind blew, he couldn’t even see his friends who were ahead of him. 
The grassland has turned black. The land was covered by sand instead of grass. The word desertification became known to the herders.
Palzang studied the Tibetan language at a university. After graduating, he has been a teacher, a translator, and a tour guide. Even though he has got not bad incomes from these jobs, he couldn’t rest himself down as his hometown was suffering from desertification. In 2010, he got a job in an environmental protection organization, where he had an opportunity to fight the desertification together with herders in his hometown. 
In the first year of planting grass, he had no experience. He asked for experience from the old and the experts. He started with buying seeds, fertilizer, and tools. He called on the herders. Since then, he couldn’t stop himself from planting grass every year. He is getting more and more experience in planting grass, and more and more herders are involved. Interestingly, yaks became essential members in planting grass as they could bring other kinds of seed through their mouths and hooves. And they could also mix up the seeds, the sand, and the fertilizer by walking.

A planting tool has been improved for four years.
Until 2019, Palzang and local herders have done this for ten years. More than 1,000 herders have participated in this combat, and they have turned nearly 1,000 hectares of desert green again.
In Palzang’s opinion, the grassland suffers not only from desertification but also from loneliness. More and more young people leave their hometowns for cities to gain knowledge. As few of them come back, so the grassland feels lonely. It is good that some of them coming back to combat desertification nowadays. “We work together, we eat together, and we chat with each other, maybe this is the best restoration of the grassland,” said Palzang.  

Palzang thinks if more young people care about the grassland, the grassland won’t feel lonely.
From Palzang’s perspective, the public benefit means that you could contain many elements, including your father, mother, relatives, friends, tribe, nation, and lives. 
There must be someone who loves to tell stories on the grassland when spring comes. He’d love to tell the story about his family, about how herders combat desertification. He is Mr. Palzang, a herder of Zoige. 

The herders scattered the seeds in April. Two months later, the grass came out.

Africa’s Great Green Wall Is a Conservation — and World — Wonder


Africa is on its way to completing the next world wonder — a nearly 5,000-mile (8,047-kilometer) belt of greenery and conservation initiatives covering the continent’s entire width. This lofty goal, the Great Green Wall, is not a PR stunt. It’s an African-led movement designed to breathe life into the continent’s degraded landscapes across the Sahel, which is the vast semi-arid region of Africa separating the Sahara Desert to the north and tropical savannas to the south, according to Euro News.

This area is experiencing a slew of ecological crises due to overgrazing, drought and poor farming practices. At the same time, desertification here is on the rise. The Sahara Desert is expanding, with one study, published in the May 2018 issue of the Journal of Climate, showing it has grown 10 percent since 1920. The ambitious Great Green Wall, which will be Earth’s largest living structure once complete, is designed to save the Sahel from ecological implosion.

“The objective is to address poverty and land degradation in the Sahel,” International Union for Conservation of Nature program officer Chris Magero says in an email. “The Great Green Wall provides an amalgamate approach to addressing these multiple issues while ensuring that sustainable land management stays at the center of these discussions.”

What Is the Great Green Wall?

The Great Green Wall, a project spearheaded by the African Union in 2007, was initially designed to build a string of trees across the continent to curb desertification, helping Sahel communities survive and thrive. But, there were some issues early on. First and foremost, the science behind tree-planting as the sole solution wasn’t fully there, according to Smithsonian. Many of the first-planted trees died, which is when leaders acknowledged it was time to change course. The Great Green Wall team analyzed indigenous land-use techniques and adapted their methodology accordingly.

From here, the project evolved from a wall of trees to more of a continent-wide movement, where Africans combat land degradation, desertification and drought based on proven indigenous practices. In some cases that’s tree planting, which the Great Green Wall largely hires locals to do. For other land stretches, it’s indigenous adaptions for agriculture or simply growing grass. In other cases, it’s a mix of all of the above. This “regreening” is truly transformational, for both the land and local people.

African Nations Join Forces

The Great Green Wall is roughly 15 percent complete, with millions of trees planted and aspirations to “restore 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of currently degraded land, sequester 250 million tons of carbon, and create 10 million jobs in rural areas” by 2030, according to the Great Green Wall website. Another equally impressive outcome? The Pan-African comradery and leadership.

The initiative started out with 11 countries, but now has over 20, making it a truly Pan-African program. Each country created its own national action plan for implementation, which ensures each nation has ownership, instead of being told what to do by outsiders. This puts power and potential for progress back in the hands of those most affected. So far, “350,000 jobs have been created and more than $90 million generated in revenue across the Great Green Wall countries,” Magero says.


Fighting desertification with forestation in China’s Inner Mongolia

By Wang Yiming

The 57-year-old Gao Eryun’s home is located in Guanjing village, Dalad Banner county of Ordos city, north China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region. This small village is surrounded by the Kubuqi Desert, the seventh-largest desert in China.

Following his father’s steps to plant drought-resistant trees, Gao Eryun has witnessed the changes in Guanjing village over the past 30 years: local people’s efforts have turned the once-barren land into a lush oasis, tree by tree, patch by patch.

In the 1980s, the village was plagued by desertification, with 22,000 hectares of severely degraded land.

“When I was a teenager, the shifting sands almost encroached on my home and farm. Despite my family putting in much effort into growing crops, we could only harvest 10 to 15 kilograms of poor-quality glutinous millet each year,” Gao Eryun recalled. 

“There was no electricity and it was hard to extract water from our deep-water well. Many of the 1,000 villagers gradually moved elsewhere due to the difficult living conditions,” Gao Eryun said. “We had a tough time then.” 

The small village of Guanjing village, Dalad Banner county of Ordos city, north China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region and surrounded by the Kubuqi Desert, suffered from desertification three decades ago. [Photo courtesy of Dalad Banner publicity department]

While Gao Eryun’s sisters left the village, he and his father Gao Linshu chose to stay put.

Gao Linshu was known for helping the first tree planted in the village survive, though just for a few years. The name Linshu, translated as “trees and forests” in Chinese, embodies the previous generations’ yearning for green pastures. 

In 1980, a meeting was convened by the Ordos government to reiterate the importance of afforestation. A year later, the government introduced policies to encourage the planting of grass and trees, promising that those who successfully irrigated the barren land and planted trees would own everything that they grew. 

While other villagers were reticent, Gao Linshu quickly got to work and became the first to contract over 50 hectares of the waste, sandy land to plant trees.

After trading two sheep for a cart of drought-resistant salix saplings, Gao Linshu led the family to busy themselves planting the young trees. 

“When the strong wind blew the saplings out of the ground, we gathered them up and planted them back again and again. The efforts seemed to be in vain until the fourth year, when we finally saw some green,” Gao Eryun said. 

Wildfires threaten drinking water and further desertification of US West Coast
By Linda Rios
19 September 2020

Over 5 million acres have burned through the fire-ravaged states of the West Coast of the United States over the last month. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 21 major fires are still burning in California, 12 in Oregon and 8 in Washington state.

Thousands of homes and other buildings have been burned to the ground, with estimates of the dead between 33 to 35, and many more missing as hundreds of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes from Washington to California.

A firefighter lost his life on Thursday, battling the fires in Yucaipa, California, bringing the total deaths in the state to 26. An older couple was also found dead amid the remains of their home in Butte County. The couple decided not to evacuate after hearing that the fire blazing near their home was 51 percent contained. In total, over 3.4 million acres have burned, and over 6,200 structures have been destroyed in the state.

The Oregon wildfires have killed at least 10 people, and 22 remain missing. One million acres have burned and 1,145 homes and 579 other buildings are destroyed. One person has been confirmed dead in Washington state. Over 800,000 acres have burned, and 195 homes and 223 buildings have been destroyed.

A thick layer of toxic smoke and ash continues to blanket the Pacific Northwest in what is considered by IQAir as the worst air quality in the world, with the poisonous air now having made its way across the country to Washington D.C. and New York and even across the Atlantic Ocean, with smoke visible in Europe.

With the rise in noxious smoke particles infiltrating the air, hospitals on the West Coast are starting to see a significant increase in the number of conditions related to respiratory and heart conditions. A report by the Hill yesterday confirms that the Stanford Health Care system, based in northern California, has seen a 12 percent increase in hospital admissions. Forty-three percent of these hospitalizations were due to an increase in strokes, as well as other cerebrovascular incidents, triggered by the levels of toxins in the air, quite possibly increasing levels of inflammation in the body. There has been a 14 percent increase in the number of heart patients being seen for aggravated conditions, 18 percent increase for kidney conditions, and 17 percent increase in asthma conditions, according to the Guardian.


Turkey offers international training on combatting desertification


Drawing from its experience combatting desertification and erosion, Turkey is helping other countries fight against land degradation.

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Bekir Pakdemirli said Friday that 953 experts from 108 countries have been trained by Turkey for the prevention of desertification and erosion. Pakdemirli said in a written statement that more will be trained soon.

After the start of the coronavirus pandemic, these educational offerings shifted from field training to an online platform.

Home to various climates across its diverse terrain, Turkey is at high risk for desertification stemming from the onset of climate change and other factors such as misuse of agricultural land and harmful irrigation methods.

More than half of Turkey’s soil has the characteristics of arid, semiarid and semihumid climates. Turkey’s central and southeastern regions, known for their vast flatlands and steep mountains, are particularly vulnerable to the risk of desertification. Erosion is another threat to Turkey, where the elevation of most land is far higher than countries in its immediate region or in European countries.

Turkey stepped up efforts to fight the desertification and a nationwide tree-planting campaign was launched last year. The “Breath for the Future” campaign inaugurated by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saw the planting of more than 11 million saplings in one day. Pakdemirli said more than 4.6 billion saplings were planted in an area of 5.4 million hectares in the past 18 years since the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power.

“We also managed to decrease the loss of soil due to erosion to 140 million tons from 500 million tons since the 1970s and want to further decrease it to 130 million tons,” Pakdemirli added.

The country credits mass planting practices, anti-erosion infrastructure and new agricultural applications, especially to reduce excessive irrigation, with the prevention of land degradation.

Desertification threatens the planet, with implications for biodiversity, poverty levels, socioeconomic stability and sustainable development, according to the United Nations. The international body warns that some 50 million people may be displaced within the next decade as a result of desertification. Arable land degradation is estimated at 30-35 times the historical rate, according to the U.N. The world loses 24 billion tons of fertile soil yearly and the dry-land degradation reduces domestic national product in developing countries by up to 8% every year.

Eritrea: Logo Dam is just the beginning

Addis Ababa (HAN) September 10. 2020. Monitoring Regional Issues. As global warming keeps threatening the inhabitants of our planet, Eritreans have been working hard on their piece of earth to fight desertification, erosion and the scarcity of water. In Eritrea, “every drop of water must be saved and stored at all costs”

ASMARA (HAN) September 10. 2020. Monitoring Regional Issues. As global warming keeps threatening the inhabitants of our planet, Eritreans have been working hard on their piece of earth to fight desertification, erosion and the scarcity of water. In Eritrea, “every drop of water must be saved and stored at all costs”; they even made that their slogan associated with projects related to water and food security, the provision of social services and industrialization.

When some five years ago people began watching government trucks and vans leaving Asmara at dawn and heading south, they wandered where all those vehicles were flocking to and for what purpose.
What was there? What we heard was that a dam, known as Logo Dam, was being built in the vicinity of Adi Halo, a small village atop a hill. But what was unknown was that a big project was under way whose purpose is to serve as a pilot for what the Government envisions Eritrea mostly to be like. The project is not just about a dam. It is much more.

Eritrea has a long coastline and so many resources in its massive Red Sea waters, but it does not have abundant fresh water. The erratic rainfall in the country has left most of Eritrea’s land arid – a disadvantage to a people whose livelihood mostly depends on farming and raising animals. Thus, to address the problem, since the dawn of Independence, the Eritrean Government has been working to insure a sustainable provision of clean potable water.

Asmara is one of the cities that had seen hurdles in meeting clean water demand with its increasing population. In an effort to deal with the problem, the Eritrean Mapping and Information Center (EMIC), working under the umbrella of the President’s Office, did a case study in early 2012 to address the issue of water scarcity in the capital.

Asmara was originally built for fewer inhabitants, and the water supply infrastructure in Mai Nefhi, Tecor, Beleza, Valle Gnecchi and Adi Shacca dams, which cater to the city, no longer have the capacity to meet the demands of a growing capital. Even during a good rainfall season, what can be harvested from these dams is much less than 12 million metric cubes of water, which is the current amount in demand.

Hence, EMIC’s first mission has been alleviating the weight from these dams by constructing a new one that is capable of supplying them with water. The Logo Dam’s construction was initiated on such premises.

Mr. Tedros Beyene, GIS Expert at EMIC for the Southern Region Department, says that the Eritrean Government has been working hard to make the provision of water sustainable in all parts of the country. He added that the novelty of the construction of the dams lay in the growth-related projects embodied in the new approach of “reserving water” that Eritrea is promoting in its development plan.

Based on the policy, the department provided an efficient work plan for the construction of the two dams, Logo and Misilam. Mr. Tedros says that the two projects required massive investment from the government, the expertise of hundreds of professionals and massive labor.

The first step towards the realization of the plan was an analysis of existing water basins in the area. The department concluded that the Southern Region is hosed down by five water basins. Out of which, about 75% of the water bodies flow into Mereb River, while the rest stream down through the eastern escarpments flowing to Haddas River. The region is also washed by other thirteen sub-basins. These ones flow directly to the Red Sea.

Seasonal rainwater from the northern part of Mountain Soira joins the river of Eindeli, topped by brooks from the mountains of Tekera and Ayakulu. These basins flow carrying rich soil, a vital addition to the side projects included in the main project of water conservation. When exploited to the maximum, areas watered by these brooks become perfect terrain for spate irrigation.

As noted above, the plan goes beyond just conserving water. The aim is to ensure well-rounded social development by utilizing both land and water resources. Its foundation began towards the end of 2013.
But why the Southern region and not the other regions? Mr. Tedros says that the Southern region has been selected to be a model because of its population density, infrastructure, abundance of land suitable for large scale agro-industry, and its accessibility to other cities and parts of the country.

This is how the catchments of Adi Halo and Gherghera areas became the sites for Logo Dam and Misilam Dam. Looking back, Mr. Tedros said that before the final draft of the site where Logo Dam is now located, the preliminary study conducted had been improved several times. While determining the dam sites, EMIC also considered several factors, such as water conservation capacity and cost, among others.

Originally, the construction of Logo Dam was projected to be in Adi Kefelet, measuring twenty five meters high and 400 meters long. The capacity was expected to be an estimated 8 million cubic meters of water.

Then the office reconsidered going a little lower towards Zaul, where a 660-meter-long dam could be built with a capacity to hold 14 million cubic meters of water. At the end, EMIC and other stakeholders agreed to build Logo Dam at its current location, suggesting the link of two dams, the saddle dam (functioning as the assisting dam) and the main dam, making Logo Dam what it is now. At 42 meters high, Logo Dam’s volume is 32 million cubic meters of water. With the good rains this summer, the dam at the moment has 14 million cubic meters of water.

Generally, Logo Dam is now functioning as the center of a multifaceted development project.

Changes in Tuva ecosystems do not fit global trends

In recent years, ecosystem changes in Tuva do not fit the global trends. While in most countries there is a tendency toward desertification, Tuva is increasingly covered with vegetation. Larch forests are replacing the steppes. This can lead to a decrease in native animal populations and the emergence of new fauna. The reasons for such changes are being investigated by a large interdisciplinary group of TSU scientists.

 – Five years ago, during expeditions to the Eastern Sayan, we noted that Tuva vegetation is changing -says Oleg Merzlyakov, associate professor in the Department of Soil Science and Soil Ecology at the TSU Biological Institute. – For several years this trend has not only been observed, it has been intensifying. One of the most noticeable factors is the advance of larch forests into steppe areas. This phenomenon can be both natural and anthropogenic in nature – due to the decline in hayfields, there is a transition of arable land to fallow land. We assembled an interdisciplinary group to find out the true reasons for such a transformation: soil scientists, botanists, zoologists from the Biological Institute and hydrologists and specialists of the Department of Meteorology and Climatology of the TSU Faculty of Geology and Geography.

Presumably, one of the influential factors is fires that burn out old larch forests. The microclimate that formed from them is changing. As a result, the permafrost horizon, which is located at a depth of several tens of centimeters, begins to melt rapidly. Moisture migrates to the valleys and the steppe, which gives life to plants that are not typical for these areas.

 – The processing of meteorological data over the past decades shows that noticeable warming has occurred in Tuva since 1998, – says Irina Kuzhevskaya, Associate Professor of the TSU Department of Meteorology and Climatology. – The average annual temperature has increased, and winters have become milder, thanks to which the plants tolerate this period better. Spring comes much earlier, April is quite warm. Usually, this period in Tuva is rather dry, but the analysis showed that in recent years the precipitation in April-May has almost doubled. All this together creates very favorable conditions for plants.

 – What is happening in Tuva now contradicts world models and forecasts,- says Sergei Kirpotin, director of the TSU Center of Excellence Bio-Clim-Land. – While in different parts of the planet there is a tendency towards climate desiccation (decrease in precipitation, decrease in the productivity of biological ecosystems) and even desertification, in Tuva we observe a steady tendency towards humidification capability (increase in temperature and humidity). This transforms the vegetation – the steppe turns green and begins to be covered not only with shrubs but also with trees.

In particular, the scientists intend to find out whether the advance of the forest on the steppe is a cyclical phenomenon that was repeated in different geological periods of time, or it is a completely new feature caused by the human factor or global warming.

During a recent expedition, scientists took soil samples, and in the south of the region, where the Tannu-Ola mountain system is located, they installed equipment that helps to track the number of important parameters. At each site of the research transect, not only standard meteorological complexes were installed, but also thermo-braids enabling real-time readings in the soil from the surface to a depth of 140 cm, and soil moisture sensors. The indicators will be sent to one of the TSU servers via the mobile network. The new information will help scientists assess the intensity of the greening of the steppe and make a prediction of how the flora and fauna will change in this area.

The importance of new data is not only fundamental but also practical. The life of the local population and their methods of managing it depend largely on the climate and weather conditions. So, for example, due to the advance of forests on the steppe, the area of pastures may decrease, and due to the general instability of the climate, the number of catastrophic floods, landslides in the mountains, and forest fires may sharply increase./Public Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.

FEATURE-Made worse by tree loss, flooding forces migration in Afghanistan

By Stefanie Glinski, Thomson Reuters Foundation

FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, Sept 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – I n a small village in northern Afghanistan, nestled in barren mountains and cut off from main roads, Arsam points to what is left of his house: the few crumbling mud walls that managed to withstand flash floods around March last year.

The 70-year-old farmer, who only goes by one name, said that in the last two years, about 40 households in the narrow valley in eastern Shar-e-Buzurg have been destroyed by flooding.

Some of the families have moved to higher terrain, Arsam explained, while others have left the village, moving to bigger cities or seeking work in neighbouring Iran.

“When I was younger, Shar-e-Buzurg was covered with trees, it was a whole jungle,” he said of his district in Badakhshan province, motioning towards the hills behind his house.

“Floods were less common back then, as the trees absorbed large parts of the spring’s snowmelt,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Large-scale deforestation driven mainly by four decades of war has contributed to widespread flooding throughout Afghanistan, prompting many in rural areas to move to the capital Kabul or leave the country.

Trees have long been casualties of extreme poverty and war in Afghanistan, with many people in remote areas having little choice but to cut down forests to build houses, fuel stoves and keep warm in winter, climate experts say.

The grave consequences of the country’s tree loss have led to calls for reforestation, but the task will not be easy, said Jalaludin Naseri, director of natural heritage protection at Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA).

“We’re trying, but it will take a long time,” he said in emailed comments.

“We are planning to restore the forests to their original state, but this needs time, budget and peace. During years of war, many depend on forests and natural resources.”


Once covered in lush forest, Afghanistan has lost the majority of its trees, which now occupy only 1.5% of the country’s land mass, according to Rajendra Aryal, country representative for the U.N.’s food agency (FAO).

“Nearly 70% of the original forest cover has been lost since the 1950s,” explained Aryal, noting that the most recent count was in 2010. More trees have been cut down since then, he said, but no reliable up-to-date estimate is available.

Climate change has exacerbated the situation.

“Frequent droughts result in accelerated land degradation, desertification and displacement,” Aryal said, adding that more than half of the country’s area is vulnerable to desertification.

Environmentalists say forests prevent soil erosion and act as a buffer against flooding, while barren land is less able to hold the water from heavy rains and snowmelt, resulting in flash floods.

According to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly 1.2 million people in Afghanistan have been forced from their homes by natural disasters such as floods and droughts since 2012.

In Badakhshan, the country’s northernmost province, they make up 40% of the total number of internally displaced people in the province, explained IOM displacement expert Michael Speir.

The rest have been displaced mainly by poverty and war, he said.


Shakira Nuddin, 30, said her husband went to work in Iran several years ago after their main source of income – a few houses they were renting out in the village’s valley – was completely washed away.

Two years ago, while back in Afghanistan for a visit, he slipped and fell down a mountain, breaking his back. Unable to walk, he is largely confined to the house while Nuddin, a mother of four, now works as a farmer.

“Life in the village has become too complicated, especially with my husband’s disability,” she said. “The floods took our houses and it’s difficult for me to find good work here. We’re hoping to move to the city.”

Faizabad, the small provincial capital the family plans to relocate to, is about a five-hour drive away – even longer by donkey followed by a bus ride, which is how the family would travel, passing over mountains and through empty riverbeds.

“Migration to cities happens inevitably. People seek safety, work, food,” said Naseri at the NEPA.


Afghanistan’s challenging environmental conditions and ongoing insecurity have so far hampered large-scale reforestation efforts, said Naseri.

But recent years have seen several projects start up with the hopes of improving the country’s forest cover.

The NEPA last year inked a deal with the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs to have clerics address climate change during prayers, stressing the importance of picking up litter and planting trees.

Earlier this year, the government announced plans to plant 13 million saplings as part of a programme to rehabilitate groundwater supplies.

And during the coronavirus pandemic alone, the FAO has restored 1,035 hectares (2,560 acres) of degraded forest by planting pine and walnut trees, according to Aryal, the country representative.

“Areas under deforestation and forest degradation can be brought back through various development programmes,” he said.

In his village in Badakhshan, Arsam said he was lucky he wasn’t home when the flash floods destroyed his house.

He would have liked to leave, as other families have done, but is too old now, he explained.

Instead, he will remain in the house that his neighbours helped to partly rebuild, adding a few flood walls further up the hill, constructed out of big rocks “hoping to keep the water at bay next year,” he said.

His hope is that he will be able to see the start of a growing forest during his lifetime.

“When the war ends, this country can bring its forests back,” Arsam said. (Reporting by Stefanie Glinski, Editing by Jumana Farouky and Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

Of deserts, their impacts on human life

The Financial Express

 Shihab Sarkar | Published:  September 10, 2020

Like the seas or oceans, deserts have also long been fascinating man by their immense expanse. Undeniably, the desert sands lying infinitely for ages have beckoned a lot of humans. These people are gifted with a sense of beauty unlike that of the average people. The sun-scorched sands and sand dunes continue to remain as areas of fascination for explorers and adventurists even today. The scenario was not different in the past. Nowadays air travels help man traverse the sprawling Sahara in whatever directions they like. Yet many prefer passing through the ordeals of daytime heat, thirst and sandstorms to crossing it by plane or air-conditioned vehicles.

For many people in the past, spotting a natural oasis filled with greenery and cool water encircled by hot sands was like setting foot on a utopia. But it’s also true that a lot of desert-crossing people would die thirsty and exhausted rushing frantically towards the illusions of oases. After running for hours, the oases would turn out to be mirages. This heartbreaking experience led to the deaths of many people. These poor souls used to travel on deserts in caravans, many fleeing wars and famine back at their homelands. Discovering human skeletons were once a common phenomenon in large deserts.

Despite being haunted by unbearable ordeals and, even, death, the daredevil expedition-makers could not be prevented from undertaking these ventures. However, modern wars have compelled battle-hardened soldiers and their generals on camel backs to cross hundreds of miles across the Sahara desert. The mention of such an episode reminds one of the British Army’s experiences in two provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the Negev Desert in Sinai Peninsula during World War-1. Desert tribes also play a significant role in the movie’s story. The episode was made into a film by British director David Lean. It was called ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ with Peter O’ Toole as the brave but reflective protagonist, Lieutenant Lawrence. Notwithstanding its awe-inspiring beauty, the Sahara has also for ages presented itself as a theatre for outburst of human emotions. Those ranged from heroism to conquests. Tender feelings also did not lag behind.

The Sahara is a perfect metonymy for deserts. It is recognised as the largest of the 23 deserts on earth. The vast Sahara covers 10 countries. They include Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigar, Sudan, Tunisia, Chad and Egypt. All these countries are located in the greater North Africa and Western Sahara. Lately the desert has become the centre-piece of a stunning discovery having many facets. For decades starting from the mid-20th century to the early phase of 21st century, a global climate-related notion reigned supreme. According to it, the earth’s ecological conditions in many regions have not been the same over the last ten thousand years. Expanses of lush green vegetation turned into barren swathes, with large tracts of rugged and desert-like tracts eventually emerging as green pastures. In the process of these changes in global landscapes, the radically changed topography of the Sahara desert occupied the most dominant place. Popular beliefs in every corner of the world had it that the Sahara had never been a desert in its earlier stage. After making rounds for over a century, the scientifically unsubstantiated theory regarding Sahara has lately proved to be true.

Based on a number of studies, weather experts are now unanimous in their firm belief that today’s Sahara desert was a grassland 4,000 years ago. They have found after research that it was a 1000-year-old mega-drought which was responsible for the start of the desertification process in a vast area. It comprised today’s Middle East and a large region in northern Africa. A belt of Sahel countries between the Sahara and the Sub-Saharan Africa is considered vulnerable to encroachment by desertification.  The debilitating drought that sparked the desertification which advanced towards north-west was centred in Southeast Asia.

According to the studies carried out by researchers around the world, and quoted by Daily Mail, the concluding days of ‘Green Sahara’ were precipitated as the changing world weather patterns caused the large region to dry up. The time when the sylvan Sahara was in existence has now been termed by the climatologists as the African Humid Period. Similar desertification processes may have occurred in many other parts of the planet. But the case of Sahara has stimulated geologists and archaeologists alike, thanks to the desert’s impact on human civilisations 4,000 years ago in greater Asia. In fact, a large-scale encroachment of deserts on human habitats and agricultural activities had not yet been experienced by mankind at the time. However, short- and mid-length droughts were not uncommon. The times’ kingdoms, kings as well as the general people would consider them as normal seasonal aberrations. Few would be found inquisitive enough to get into the reasons behind the eventual rise in the irregular weather patterns’ intensity in the following centuries. As the global weather experts now view it, the process of climate change began showing its signs one to two thousand years before the desertification of the ‘Green Sahara’.

Compared to the massive changes caused by erratic climate behaviours thousands of years ago, today’s polar snow melt, repeated hurricanes, typhoons and floods appear to be inane. It’s time we braced for the worse. A school of climatologists find in these small but recurring natural hazards the portents of future cataclysmic climate changes. This phenomenon might appear in a different way altogether. The ‘habitable’ Sahara’s desertification did not remain confine to the vanishing of the region’s green pasture and woodlands. Archaeologists believe the changed Sahara encroached on Mesopotamia’s Akkadian Empire. The desertification eventually led to its petering out. At the same time, it witnessed the disappearance of the thriving urbanisation of the Indus civilisation, as well as the emergence of ‘pastoralism’ along the Nile. Until now, there have been lots of theories at work behind the collapse of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, the two epitomes of urbanisation in the Indus Valley region. Various conditions have for centuries been ascribed to the downfall of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, two centres of Bronze Age civilisation. The causes ranged from the attack of invaders, natural disasters like flood, pestilence etc.

From now on, i.e. upon the new theories’ authenticity proofs, the desertification of the massive Sahara and its spillover effect on the adjoining regions is expected to be considered one of the major environmental disasters in human history. The impact of Sahara desertification has lately been found in places as far as the caves in Southeast Asia’s Laos. Geologists consider it as the evidence of the ‘missing millennia’ in Southeast Asia’s archaeological record. The changes in Sahara region’s topographical character have been the subjects of heated debates for many decades. The very idea that the Sahara desert was once a land filled with greenery had continued to perplex the common folks for long. And it was quite natural.

The largest desert in the world is replete with myriads of typical episodes highlighting heroism and adventures, fables about bravery and the experience of living in natural adversities — not to speak of the tales of nomadic tribes and their colourful lifestyle. Few people can muster the capability to visualise the present desert as a ‘Green Sahara’. However, the Sahara Desert has left influences on all the branches of the arts. Apart from music and painting it has made its presence felt in literature, especially ballads. It seems it is the creative people who especially remained fascinated by the magnificent yet awe-inspiring beauty of this seemingly infinite desert. Even the Bengalee poets like Tagore, Nazrul, the modernist Jibanananda, Sudhin Dutta et al felt mesmerised by the Sahara.

The discovery of Sahara’s green past by researchers carries a potent message. There should be worldwide efforts to stop new types of desertification owing to climate change. Deserts stunt all kinds of growth and the prospects for survival.

South-South Cooperation to tackle climate change

For the International Day for South-South Cooperation on 12 September, we follow a pioneering, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-supported project that’s using nature to adapt to climate change in three ecosystems – the coasts of Seychelles, the mountains of Nepal and the deserts of Mauritania.

The Seychelles, a nation known for exquisite beaches and turquoise waters, has been described by some as a sinking paradise.

“Nowadays you can see the water coming higher. It’s climate change,” says Godfrey Albert, 48, a Seychellois fisherman from Mahe Island. “At this time of year, we’re not supposed to have rain and yet we have rain. Everything has changed.”

Beyond erratic rainfall, increasing coastal storms, and rising sea levels are eroding the shorelines and flooding people’s land. For a country where 80 per cent of economic activities occur in coastal regions, this poses a grave threat.

Gesturing towards the open sea, Albert shrugs: “I told you, man. It’s a hard life in paradise.”

These climate impacts are made even worse by the destruction of coastal mangrove forests that once surrounded many of the country’s 115 islands. Mangroves act as an extremely effective defence against coastal flooding and erosion by reducing the height and strength of waves.

The fate of the fishing industry, which along with tourism is the most important source of income in the country, is tied to mangroves. The forests provide a breeding ground for fish before going out to sea, and the organic matter trapped in the roots offer vital nutrients for many fish species.

Funded by the Global Environment Facility, a project worked with communities in the Seychelles – along with Mauritania and Nepal – to use nature to adapt to the impacts of climate change, a strategy termed ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA).

The project, known as EbA South, was executed by the National Development and Reform Commission of China, through the Chinese Academy of Sciences. By planting mangroves across the Seychelles, EbA South demonstrated how countries can build the resilience of local communities against storms and floods while improving local fish stocks.

The restored mangrove forests not only protect the land from the sea but also protect the sea from land by filtering out litter and sediment as it’s washed down from the mountains and into oceans. Without mangroves, the sediment covers the coral, killing fish and the local fishing businesses.

“Mangroves play a big role in the sea. They filter everything,” says Missia Dubignon, a volunteer of the Terrestrial Restoration Action Society of the Seychelles (TRASS) Trust, a partner of EbA South.

Volunteers from the TRASS Trust, a partner of EbA South, plant mangroves to reduce the impacts of floods and storms, to increase fish stocks and to filter rubbish being washed from the land to the sea. This multi-beneficial aspect is typical of EbA approaches. Photo: UNEP / Aidan Dockery

“Plant a tree, save a life,” says Dubignon with a smile.

From coasts to deserts to mountains

EbA South worked in three completely different ecosystems to promote knowledge-sharing: the coasts of Seychelles, the mountains of Nepal and the deserts of Mauritania.

In Mauritania – one of the most arid countries in the world – the climate is becoming hotter and drier, devastating water supplies and crop yields. Here, EbA South used nature as a defence by planting ‘shelter belts’, a line of trees or shrubs that protects an area from extreme weather.

The newly planted trees are shielding crops from wind erosion and desertification by holding together the soil and retaining moisture in the ground. Tree nurseries were constructed to supply the required trees, and trainings were given to local communities to understand which species are best for warding off desertification.

In Nepal, increased monsoon rainfall and decreased winter rainfall is leading to crop losses from both droughts and floods. The sponge-like properties of many tree root systems can tackle these impacts by recharging groundwater supplies during intense rain, and absorbing water into the ground during flooding. Community-based restoration was carried out by EbA South to protect crop yields, with over 840,000 seedlings planted.

In the Nepalese mountains, a tree nursery contains seedlings that will be used by EbA South to protect crops from floods, drought and erosion. Photo: EbA South

South-South cooperation

EbA South is seen as a flagship initiative for South-South cooperation – enabling an exchange between countries in the Global South in the form of technology transfer, capacity-building, policy support or fundraising.

During the project, China, Mauritania, Seychelles and Nepal regularly exchanged knowledge and best practices on ecosystem-based adaptation, including exchange visits to Mauritania and China. A web-based platform was built to facilitate collaboration – it contains webinars, case studies, an ecosystem-based adaptation planning tool and other knowledge products. Research programmes were established in partnership with local universities to advance ecosystem-based adaptation science and measure the effects of the project’s restoration activities. Thirteen scientific papers were produced by the Nepal team, seven by Seychelles and 11 by Mauritania.

This exchange of knowledge culminated in an array of publications and tools now used by practitioners across the Global South, such as the ecosystem-based adaptation planning tool ALivE: Adaptation, Livelihoods and Ecosystems.

paper published in the journal Plants, People, Planet captures some of the key outcomes of the project. Other publications that emerged from the project’s work in South-South cooperation, include a Handbook for Ecosystem-based Adaptation in Mountain, Dryland, and Coastal Ecosystems, a resource guide for Integrating Ecosystem-based Adaptation in Education Curriculum and a reference guide to Research on Ecosystem-based Adaptation.

Speaking at a 2019 conference, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “South-South cooperation will be vital to ensure mutual support and exchange of best practices to enhance adaptation.”

From research programmes to on-the-ground restoration, EbA South demonstrates how to turn those words into action.

To learn more about UNEP’s work in ecosystem-based adaptation, click here.

For more information about the EbA South project, please contact Jessica Troni (

Tree planting to promote environmental conservation and improve livelihoods in Burkina Faso

Biodiversity loss, through land degradation and drought, is a serious threat to the sustainable development activities across the continent of Africa. This is often exacerbated by the lack of knowledge and skills on sustainable land management practices and forest biodiversity conservation. Low levels of awareness and sensitization of the advantages of land restoration among some, combined with poor regulation of resources, and lack of consideration for the interests of local communities, often leads to poor public support and participation towards conservation of natural resources.

It is against this backdrop that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in collaboration with and with financial support from the Korea Forest Service, developed an initiative to help developing countries to restore degraded lands to combat desertification, promote sustainable biodiversity conservation and improve the livelihoods of local communities.

UNEP and the Korea Forest Service collaborated with the Government of Burkina Faso to implement a project to help the country to restore its degraded lands, combat land degradation, and mitigate climate change. This initiative would further help the country to combat the huge and unprecedented rates at which land degradation, desertification and biodiversity depletion (including non-timber tree species), from negatively affecting the environment. This was done at a consultation workshop held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

At the meeting, Rasmane Ouedraogo, the Director of Cabinet of the Ministry in charge of the environment in the country, pointed out that land degradation and desertification has reduced the provision of ecosystem services, causing significant social and economic costs to the country. He reiterated that restoring degraded lands, including reforestation of degraded lands using non-timber forest species, is a common and effective option that could offer multiple benefits to the local communities and to the economy of the country. The proposed project will help the country to achieve the national voluntary land degradation neutrality target, in accordance with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

UNEP provided technical expertise on various ecosystem approaches, including the most suitable choice of tree species that would be sustainable in the area. Sustainable best practices from similar projects implemented in other African countries such as Ghana and Benin were also shared with the participants to help inspire them as well as show the expected impact of the initiative in the long run. 

National experts on land restoration also shared their expertise on the nature of land degradation and biological diversity loss in Burkina Faso, and what the government and involved institutions could do to restore the degraded areas.

UNEP emphasized the development and implementation of land restoration and biodiversity conservation practices for improved livelihoods, which would eventually promote non-timber-forest-products enterprises as alternative sources of income for local communities.

For more information, please contact Emmanuel.Adonsou[at] I Harpreet.Paneesar[at] | Catherine.Abuto[at]un.orgTOPICS