THE GREAT GREEN WALL: BETWEEN HOPE AND FAILURE
There are different adaptation strategies to climate change aiming to either mitigate changes or adapt to them. The Great Green Wall (GGW) is a good example of a large-scale adaptation to climate change. This initiative aims to grow an 8,000km long barrier of trees and grass in the Sahel region, that is, across the width of Africa from Senegal to Djibouti.
The importance of growing grass and trees in this region is vital in the Sahel, indeed, this region is shrinking due to overgrazing, droughts, and both farming and livestock practices that stripped past grasslands increasing desertification. Although massive plantations can be a good idea in the longer run, it has been pointed out as not the most cost-effective solution to climate change due to the low survival rate of planted trees in this region. Chris Reij, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, says that restoring the original grasslands would be a better idea. Similarly, research points out that the GGW needs modification to be effective and be supported by both local and international communities. For example, O’Connor and Ford propose planting shrubs rather than trees as a more effective strategy. Anyways, many experts agree that the point is for countries to collaborate against climate change at the same time that these projects improve the lives of the local people.
However, the progress of the Great Green Wall is slower than expected due to the lack of funding and political issues, among other problems. According to the last status report in 2020, the reforestation project has only covered 4% of its target area although it aimed to be finished by 2030. The authors of the study underline that the GGW would need more funds, tighter oversight and greater technical support for achieving its 2030 target.
THE SAHEL AS THE ‘GROUND ZERO FOR CLIMATE CHANGE’
The Sahel region has been named as the ‘ground zero for climate change’ because of the ‘high climate variability, chronic levels of poverty, conflict, and a very fast-growing population rate’. Building on that, and according to the ND-GAIN Country Index developed by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, which measures a country’s exposure, sensitivity and capacity to adapt to the negative effects of climate change’ by considering vulnerability in six life-support sectors (food, water, health, ecosystem service, human habitat and infrastructure), the Sahel region is the most climate-vulnerable region on Earth (illustrated in Image 2). Therefore, an initiative such as the GGW, with everything this involves for the local landscape and population, can be particularly important in a region such as the Sahel.
MIGRATION IN THE SAHEL REGION: CAN A GREEN WALL BECOME A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY TO STAY?
Migration has always been a significant adaptation strategy to the fluctuation of the local climate, which includes seasonal rainfalls and periodic droughts. Although links between migration and climate change are never straightforward, the added stress of climate change can heighten already existing issues and, ultimately, play a central role in making people migrate. Indeed, climate change could impact traditional or established migration strategies undermining the livelihoods they created, as it is the case of nomadic herding. Given this situation, the objective of the GGW is to offer solutions to the threats of climate change, famine, drought, migration and conflict by restoring degraded landscapes to provide food, jobs and security to the millions of people living along its path.
As mentioned earlier, the GGW and migration in the region are closely related. Elvis Paul Tangem, the coordinator of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative at the African Union Commission, says that migration has had a deep impact on the GGW because of the difficulty to make a living from the land is a major push factor for migration. Thousands of people have left and will continue to leave the region as lands lose fertility, desert expands, droughts are more usual and longer, and the grass is increasingly scarce, which in short, makes a living from the land extremely difficult. Therefore, the GGW plays an important role as a project that aims to combat desertification. The idea of the GGW is more than a barrier made out of trees and has evolved into different projects that beyond restoring degraded land create opportunities and reasons to stay for the local populations.