A Challenging Region
The African drylands have reached a tipping point: Populations are rising, the climate is changing and inappropriate expansion of mechanised farming and oil exploration is threatening the lives of rural people and pushing them deeper into poverty.
Environment: The region is characterised by low and unpredictable rainfall (typically 100-350mm per year) and sandy soils, making rain-fed agriculture largely unviable and the provision of basic services a challenge that many governments do not undertake. Development in such a hostile environment is difficult.Climate Change and Pastoralism: Climate change is already making life even harder for the 300 million people who live across the Sahel. Of these, about 60 million (20%) are pastoralists; those who raise and herd livestock, often over great distances. Pastoralists' nomadic way of life evolved in response to climate variability over 6,000 years ago. However, increasingly abnormal climate events combined with ongoing political and economic marginalisation has weakened pastoralists' ability to adapt. Those who have contributed least to the problem of climate change, and who are proven to be good custodians of the environment, are now seeing their opportunities for development destroyed. It is unsurprising that deepening poverty and disempowerment can breed conflict and unrest in these remote areas.
SOS Sahel UK is working to address the poverty and neglect of these communities on the margins, for without such action the Millennium Development Goals, set by the United Nations to halve global poverty by 2015, will never be reached.
Terrain and Climate
- The Sahel is mostly covered in grassland and savanna, with areas of woodland and shrubland.
- Rainfall is low and unpredictable (typically 100-350mm per year) and drought and flash floods are common, with climate change intensifying weather extremes.
- It is one of the poorest regions in the world, with several countries that rank lowest in the United Nations' Human Development Index 2007-08 (including Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali & Ethiopia).
- The 300 million or so people who live across this dry belt of lands practice small-scale cultivation and pastoralism – a system of raising and herding livestock that developed centuries ago to cope with changing weather patterns.
- For centuries, farmers and herders have lived in harmony with each other and this hostile environment.
- Recently, this relationship has come under strain and conflicts between settled and nomadic people are increasing in number and severity. Here are just two reasons why:
- herders are forced to travel further in search of green pasture due to failed rains, often damaging farmers' un-harvested crops
- farmers are encroaching onto areas dedicated for grazing as the land is squeezed by the expansion of large-scale commercial agriculture and oil exploration.
''Sahel'' is an Arabic word meaning 'edge of the desert'.