Africa, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

ENVIRONMENT-NIGER: Projects Aplenty to Halt the Desert

Michée Boko

COTONOU, Feb 21 2007 (IPS) - For those taking up arms against desertification in Niger, the task at hand must seem daunting.

The Ténéré desert, part of the Sahara, spans the north-east of the country – accounting for about 350,000 of Niger’s 1, 267, 000 square kilometres. In all, three quarters of the land is desert, which – according to the Ministry of the Environment – is advancing by six km every year.

Rainfall is scarce. The third national report on biological diversity noted in October 2005 that the highest amounts of water collected each year were less than 800 millimetres throughout the country, even dropping below 100 mm in almost half of Niger. Temperatures can sometimes climb to 45 degrees in the shade, in the height of the dry season.

However, these factors aren’t deterring Niger from embarking on a variety of projects to keep land degradation at bay – something made all the more urgent by the fact that 85 percent of the West African nation’s 12.5 million people depend on the land, making a living from farming and livestock.

In fact, the situation for many in Niger is already dire: the country ranked last amongst the 177 nations surveyed for the 2006 Human Development Index, produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The projects are being carried out in terms of Niger’s National Action Plan to Fight Desertification and Manage Natural Resources, developed to meet its obligations under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The Niamey government signed the UNCCD in 1994 and ratified it in 1996. The national action plan was adopted in December 2000.

Past and present initiatives against desertification may also form part of the drive to reduce poverty. They include:

* A project to study the causes and effects of desert windstorms, and what actions can be taken to make the effects of these less severe.

* The ‘African Land and Water Initiative’, for which the 2004-2005 pilot project was financed with 515,000 dollars obtained from the World Bank and under the UNCCD.

* The ‘Natural Forests Management Project’, financed with about 15.6 million dollars from the African Development Bank (ADB) and UNCCD during 2000-2005.

* An institution building project to support the National Action Plan to Fight Desertification and Manage Natural Resources, financed by Italy with 1,600 dollars during 2002-2004.

* The ‘Youth Corps Project’ to reduce poverty, financed with 450,000 dollars from the UNDP and UNCCD.

* A presidential initiative that seeks to encourage community participation on the part of the youth and fight poverty, carried out during 2001-2004. It was financed with some 70 million dollars from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). HIPC was started a decade ago by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to help poor states reduce unsustainable debt.

* A UNDP-financed project still underway (2004-2007) – the ‘Programme to Fight Poverty’. The agency has supplied four million dollars for this project.

* The ‘Community Action Programme’, also a poverty reduction initiative, financed by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with 39 million dollars between 2004 and 2008. The GEF was set up in 1991 to fund environmental programmes in developing nations.

* The ‘National Forestry Programme’, financed with 365, 900 dollars from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2004-2006.

* A project to fight silting up of the Niger river watershed, financed by the ADB and the Niger Basin Authority, with about 9.6 million dollars for 2004-2008.

“Desertification is no longer fatal in Niger. It is a manageable phenomenon that yields to the ongoing involvement of local communities which have committed themselves to the recovery of degraded areas,” says Larwanou Mahamane, an agro forestry engineer from Niger.

Chris Reij, a specialist in natural resources at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, holds similar views.

“Everyone thinks that trees are disappearing from Niger, that the environment is continually being degraded. But we have noticed, during our expeditions on site for 10 – even 20 – years, that there are more trees than people in Niger,” he said.

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