African delegates attending a meeting of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Uzbekistan between November 13 and 17 said that conflicts around the world, like the Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have diverted the world’s attention from other important issues, like desertification and the effects of climate change in Africa.
Delegates told DW that funds for projects to mitigate desertification in Africa are being diverted to Israel and Ukraine.
Nigerian delegate Habiba Ibrahim castigated world leaders for neglecting environmental issues and desertification, which are “a reality in Africa”, she said. “They are not paying enough attention,” Ibrahim told DW, “because when you have issues of conflicts going on around the world, your mind tends to go there.” Ibrahim warned that the world should not wait to act until disaster strikes.
Gambian delegate Muhammed Jaitey feared that the promised funds would not be disbursed anytime soon. “Unfortunately the world’s attention is divided now. Most of the funding has somehow been diverted to solve other problems, like the war in Gaza and the Ukraine-Russia war, that affects all countries,” Jaitey told DW. He lamented a growing lack of unity between countries to fight drought and other climate related issues. “If I would meet them [world leaders], I would tell them to pay more attention to land degradation and desertification,” Jaitey added.
Desertification spiralling out of control
Recent data provided by the UNCCD shows that the world is losing nearly 100 million hectares of healthy and productive land every year.
UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said in a statement that “droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves we have witnessed around the world are the symptoms of the deepening and interlinked climate and nature crises, with land at the heart of both”. Thiaw urged the international community to stop further land degradation, pointing out that since 2015, a total of four million sq km of land had been lost.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 110 million people in Africa were directly affected by weather, climate, and water-related hazards in 2022, causing damages of more than $8.5 billion (€7.7 billion). From the Central African Republic to Somalia and Sudan, fragile states suffer more from floods, droughts, storms, and other climate-related shocks than other countries, UN agencies say.
How countries in Africa are dealing with desertification
Habiba Ibrahim said that her country, Nigeria, is taking many measures to prevent desertification. “We have to,” she said, because “a greater part of our land, especially almost all 20 states in the northern part of Nigeria, is being affected by desertification, drought, and land degradation.” All of which has a direct negative impact on Nigerians’ lives and food security, she added.
To prevent conflicts between farmers and herders, which have increased as a result of desertification, the Nigerian government has also created grazing reserves for nomadic herdsmen, Ibrahim explained.
In Gambia, community gardens have been established, with a target of planting at least one million trees annually. “In the garden, residents create nursery beds for seedlings which, upon maturity, are transferred to forest reserves. The planted trees capture the carbon released to the atmosphere that is the major cause of global warming,” Jaitey said.
As happens in other countries on the continent, population growth in Gambia is also contributing towards deforestation. As of now 40 per cent of Gambia’s surface is still covered by forest. But people will cut down trees to grow crops and build shelters, Jaitey pointed out.
In Burkina Faso, the junta-led government of Captain Ibrahim Traore is struggling to combat desertification, especially in parts of the country controlled by jihadist groups. Like other countries in the Sahel, Burkina Faso is severely affected by land degradation, sandstorms, and drought.
Dambatia Lazare, from Burkina Faso, told DW that authorities in his country are “developing strategies and concrete actions to combat desertification by developing technological packages in agriculture, livestock, and natural resource management.” For political reasons he refused to go into the details of what the junta-led government is doing to combat desertification.
More money needed
While responsible for only a fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is suffering disproportionately from climate change. A recent report revealed that there was a deficit of $366 billion to finance the fight against climate change, leaving the world ever more vulnerable to extreme weather phenomena.
“Resources must be mobilized to take action against drought, desertification, and hunger,” Jaitey said. Despite the efforts by individual African countries, without adequate funding, desertification cannot be prevented, he said.