UNAIZAH, Saudi Arabia, Feb 14 (Reuters) – As drought ravages the Middle East, Saudi environmental activist Abdullah Abduljabar sees a silver lining for deserts: Saxaul trees produce seeds only as they become drier, opening a window to plant even more in the kingdom’s vast wilderness of Qassim. For centuries millions of these trees, commonly known by their Arabic name Al-Ghadha, provided firewood, animal feed and respite from the desert heat for the Bedouin forefathers of modern Saudis.Report ad
The roots bind the sands and help constrain sandstorms.
Abduljabar, vice-president of the Al-Ghadha environmental association, said his organisation is planning to plant 250,000 of the drought-resistant trees this year in Unaizah in the central Qassim region.
“The saxaul is a legacy of the people of Unaizah… one of its benefits is that it holds down the sands,” Abduljabar said.
Planting saxaul trees is part of green initiative by the Saudi government aimed at reducing carbon emissions, pollution and land degradation.
The kingdom aims to plant 10 billion trees in the coming decades as part of an ambitious campaign unveiled by its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year. The country also plans to work with other Arab states to plant an additional 40 billion trees across the Middle East.
Many Middle Eastern countries are suffering from rising temperatures and longer and more frequent droughts, placing pressure on water supplies and food production.
The saxaul can survive for months without a drop of water and thrives in particularly harsh environments where temperatures can soar to 58 degrees Celsius (136 F). The Gulf is one of the hottest places on earth.
The Unaizah park last year was recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest saxaul botanic garden, stretching over 172 sq km (66.41 sq miles).Report ad
On a recent visit, an expanse of saxaul trees stretched to the horizon, enlivening the desert as wind blew through their needle-like leaves.
“The saxaul tree has many qualities, one of the most important ones is that it doesn’t need a lot of water,” said Al-Ghadha association president Majed Alsolaim, as he walked in the park while holding the Guinness certificate in his hands.
“That’s why people in Unaizah have taken care of it (in order for it) to become an environmental symbol for this region.”
Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Editing by William Maclean
The featured top image is for illustration and is credit to Sharjah24.com
The above image is for illustration and is through Pinterest
Published by The Peninsula of Qatar, this article could not go without due notice by possibly the widest audience in the MENA region. So would an Expo 2023 Doha to help develop the agricultural sector pave the way towards a greener future. Or if one perhaps wonders, if yet again, another come to be interference in our good old planet’s distribution of geo-climatisation arrangements is envisioned.
Expo 2023 Doha to help develop agricultural sector
Doha: The International Horticultural Exhibition (‘Expo 2023 Doha’) will not only benefit just Qatar, but also help strengthen agricultural sector in the entire region.
The first-of-its-kind expo in GCC and MENA region is expecting large number of research works from 80 countries and their reputed universities and research institutions.
Expo 2023 Doha, spreading over 1.7 million sqm, will be held at Al Bidda Park between two Doha Metro stations from October 2, 2023 to March 28, 2024, under the theme ‘Green Desert Better Environment’.
Secretary General of the National Committee for hosting Expo 2023 Doha, Mohammed Ali Al Khouri, said that the main idea behind organising such a mega event is sharing experiences in developing agricultural sector and preserving environment.
Speaking on a Qatar TV programme yesterday, Al Khouri who is also Director of Public Parks Department at the Ministry of Municipality, said that the latest research in agricultural sector will be presented at the expo to help increase the agricultural land and develop it, especially in desert countries.
“The biggest section of the expo will be dedicated for agriculture sector. Usually this expo is held in countries with big agricultural land. This edition will be the first time it will be organised in a desert land,” said Al Khouri.
“We can feel, from now, the great importance being given by participating countries and their universities and research organisations.”
He said that the theme of expo is ‘Green Desert Better Environment’ as the talk of the time is environment, climate change and plantation, especially in desert countries which have limited resources of water and arable lands.
“These challenges need intervention by agricultural experts and researchers to reduce the cost of production and water consumption. This is what we will try to achieve through the expo and even after the event the researches will continue. We expect fruitful results which will serve the entire region,” said Al Khouri.
He said that over 80 countries from all over the world are expected to participate in the expo showcasing and sharing their experiences which will be utilised by the desert and even agricultural countries in developing their farming methodologies.
On the other hand, he said, the expo will also focus on preserving the environment which has become a global issue seeking a reduction in carbon footprint.
“Qatar launched many initiatives to protect the environment such as Plant Million Tree initiative which is expected to be completed before FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” said Al Khouri. He said after that another initiative targeting to plant 10 million trees in the country will be launched. “These initiatives are being implemented mainly with the support of the government, however many companies and institutions from the private sector are participating in a big way,” said Al Khouri.
Land degradation affects the vast majority of the MENA region, mainly through desertification. However, as more land becomes bereft of life across the region because of climate change, deforestation ensuing for years on end, the United Nations some years back, warned that a rise in socio-political instability could lead to dwindling resources. All across the MENA region, as the ground is getting hotter, drier and deadlier, it would be more challenging to tackle practical measures that can help to salvage and, in some cases, revitalise the degraded resources that remain. For instance, desert country Jordan aims for Green with a 10-million tree campaign. Here are Mussa Hattar’s explanations.
Desert country Jordan aims for Green with 10-million tree campaign
On a bare hill in Jordan’s verdant Ajloun region, dozens of people plant saplings as part of a reforestation effort that aims to reach 10 million trees in 10 years.
“The trees in our region are beautiful,” says 11-year-old Mohammed al-Ananza, helping his father Mustafa plant a carob sapling.
“It’s a real shame that we have lost so many to fires… We should work together to protect them,” he says as they work near the Kufranjah forest north of the capital Amman.
Forests make up only one percent of the desert kingdom’s territory, according to the agriculture ministry, though Jordan also has an estimated 23 million orchard trees, half of them olives.
Forest fires strike almost every year in the Middle Eastern country due to high summer temperatures, in a trend scientists expect to intensify with climate change.
The blazes are often started by picnickers’ barbeques or carelessly discarded cigarettes.
There were 499 fires in wood and forest areas last year alone, according to the agriculture ministry.
“We must make up for what has been lost in the fires,” said Belal Qtishat, head of the nature protection department at the environment ministry.
“It’s the only way to fight desertification and climate change and to protect biodiversity.”
Mahmoud al-Ananza watched on as his grandson and son got to work on the hill in Kufranjah.
The family has volunteered but agriculture and environment ministry employees were also among the 150 people in charge of planting 30,000 trees in the area.
“I was born here and I can tell you that if you plant cypress trees, eucalypts, olives, carob or oak, they will grow on their own,” the man in his 70s said, wearing a traditional red-and-while keffiyeh scarf.
The programme focuses on species that, after the initial phase of taking root, can survive without a lot of additional water.
Mohamed Daoudia, agriculture minister at the time of the project’s launch last month, said fires were the biggest problem for Jordan’s wooded areas.
“Illegal tree felling only represents one percent of the damage to forests,” he told AFP.
In October, 50 hectares (over 120 acres) of olive and forest trees burnt in the Ajloun region, while a year earlier in Jerash province, 80 hectares went up in flames.
Qtishat, of the environment ministry, said the reforestation project aimed to rehabilitate only “the regions fit for doing so”.
“We don’t plan to cover the whole kingdom with trees because each part of the country has its own special features,” he said.
Benefits for bees
The aim of the first stage is to create forests in Karak and Tafila provinces south of the capital, planting in each area 30,000 commonly found trees like eucalyptus, jujube and carob.
The campaign began in Kufranjah, which Qtishat described as “Jordan’s lungs”.
The kingdom also plans to work on fire prevention by setting up monitoring posts and patrols, providing its civil defence with specialised vehicles and carrying out forest surveillance using drones.
Former minister Daoudia described the reforestation programme as both “ambitious and realistic”.
He said results would be seen in the next four to five years, and that the greening campaign would also benefit bees and honey production.
Jordan produces an average of 250 tonnes of honey a year.
“Our nurseries produce 2.5 million forest trees a year and 500,000 fruit trees. So in theory, we could plant 10 million trees in four years,” Daoudia said.
“But we decided on 10 years in order to do the job well.”
Africa climate change report reveals heat rising north and south, the Sahel getting wetter per Willem Van Cotthem, University of Ghent, Belgium in today’s Desertification blog.
Africa needs to prepare better for climate change by responding to a wide range of potential risks, a multi-agency report led by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday, the first in a series of continent-by-continent assessments.
“In recent months we have seen devastating floods, an invasion of desert locusts and now face the looming spectre of drought because of a La Niña event. The human and economic toll has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.
Filling the gap
The report aims to fill a gap in reliable and timely climate information for Africa, which translates into a lack of climate-related development planning, said Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General, and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
Africa has been warming progressively since the start of the last century, and in the next five years, northern and southern Africa are set to get drier and hotter, while the Sahel region of Western Africa will get wetter, WMO’s Regional Strategic Office Director, Filipe Lucio, told a press conference.
“Overall, Africa needs to take action. Action is needed today in terms of adaptation, but also is needed tomorrow in terms of mitigation”, Lucio said.
The agricultural sector is key to building climate resistance, since it is the dominant employer and it relies on the use of water and energy – both heavily implicated in climate change, he said.
Northern and southern areas under threat of aridity and desertification would benefit from reforestation, which helps to prevent water runoff and creates vegetation which supports the hydrological cycle.
Policy changes are also recommended in transport, energy, infrastructure and industry. Financing has improved with the establishment of a UN-backed Green Climate Fund but there are still limitations in terms of the continent’s ability to tap into such funds, he added.
Climate change has contributed to a jump in food insecurity, mosquito-borne disease and mass displacement in the past decade, and the rise in sea levels has led to unusual weather patterns such as Tropical Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in 2019.
It showed the need for communities to learn about the risks and for impact-based warnings about the appropriate actions to take.
A day after the cyclone made landfall, it appeared to have dissipated and people thought the worst was over. But then disaster struck when flooding followed, overwhelming Mozambique’s major port city of Beira, Lucio said.
“People were asked to find refuge in appropriate places but the city of Beira was never built to withstand a category-5 tropical cyclone. So that means the building codes need to be changed, but the building codes cannot be changed using what tropical cyclones used to be like in the past.
“They need to have forward-looking analysis to anticipate the trends into the future and start designing infrastructure and other systems taking into account the changing nature of these tropical cyclones.”
Author, Willem Van Cotthem is Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.
OrientXXIENVIRONMENT in Torrential rains and persistent drought making it that Climate Change Devastates the Sahel by RÉMI CARAYOL, Journalist could well be another stone in the path towards full awareness of our common destiny all the world over. The trend might as well impact the bordering MENA region to the north amongst the first. There is no definite borderline but only a vast desert space that split Africa’s peoples for millennia and that would not prevent the devastating effects of what is reported here to reach the Mediterranean.
The Sahel is a region made increasingly arid by the encroaching desert and yet it must deal periodically with devastating floods. A double bind with many causes.
A man wading across an expanse of water carrying a mattress on his head. A woman piling onto a makeshift rowboat the pots and pans she has been able to rescue. Youths hastily trying to mount a sand dike in front of half-destroyed mud huts… For the past few years, these and similar pictures have become commonplace in the Sahel. Recently, on the social networks, we even saw an SUV dragged miraculously out of the water at the end of a cable while a crowd cheered.
At odds with what has been for years the region’s customary image—an increasingly parched savannah as the desert pursues its advance and where there is a penury of everything, especially water—the Sahel is now regularly devastated by severe flooding. Rainfall, vitally important for millions of farmers and livestock breeders, is not always impatiently awaited. Quite the contrary. In the bigger towns especially, everyone knows it will be coming sometime around the end of August or the beginning of September and will bring about huge rises in river levels and tragic flooding that will cause enormous damage and plunge thousands of families into mourning. “Every year it’s the same thing, there’s water everywhere. But what can we do?” Ali laments. He lives in Lamordé, a neighbourhood in Niamey, flooded again by the waters of the Niger at the beginning of September and who had to send his family to stay with friends while he cleaned his house.
FROM NIGER TO SUDAN
The capital of Niger was especially hard hit this year. Several neighbourhoods were flooded, including those on the right bank where the university is located, when a dam burst under the pressure of the river water. By 7 September, the authorities had counted no less than 65 deaths (14 by drowning), 32,000 collapsed houses, some 330,000 homeless and thousands of acres of crops destroyed all over the country.
Another country that has greatly suffered this year is Sudan, where some hundreds have died, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Nearly 71,000 houses were destroyed and over 720,000 people are homeless, victims of heavy rainfall (in the West) and the rise of the level of the Nile (in the East). In that country, where a state of national emergency has been declared for a period of three months, it is thought that these floods are the worst since 1946. The government has announced that the level of the Nile has reached 17.43 metres, the highest ever recorded in the last century.
Torrential rains have also fallen on Burkina Faso, where a state of national disaster was decreed on 9 September, when there had already been 13 dead; on Nigeria, where over 30 people died; on Chad, on Mauritania as well as on Senegal, where the capital, Dakar, was especially hard hit. In a single day, 5 September, more water fell on the city than during the three months of what is described as a “normal” rainy season. According to the OCHA, nearly 760,000 people have been affected by the flooding which has hit West Africa and a part of Central Africa over the past few weeks.
What shocked everyone ten years ago is no longer surprising today. “We finally got used to it,” observes our Ali, the Nigerien quoted earlier. “Today we’ve learned to live with it.” In 2019, torrential rains affected over a million people in eleven sub-Saharan countries. In most of the Sahelian countries, flooding has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, especially in the big cities: Niamey in 2010, 20121, 2013, 2016, 2017; Ouagadougou in 2009, 2012 and 2015…
On 1 September 2009, an unprecedented 263 millimetres of rain fell on the Burkinese capital in a matter of 12 hours. Eleven years later, the people of the city still remember that. The reservoirs overflowed. Forty-five districts were flooded and at least 125,000 people lost their homes. “My wife and I had only just time to scoop up our boy and run. It happened so quickly. The water rose by a metre and a half, the house collapsed,” a survivor named Antoine recounted a few years ago. He had been provided with downtown lodgings by the public authorities. On that same day, 1 September 2009, a very violent rainstorm hit northern Niger, in the middle of the desert, causing a big rise in the level of the wadi Teloua which flooded the city of Agadez causing enormous damage (3 dead, 80,000 homeless, devastated crops).
GLOBAL WARMING AND POPULATION BOOM
How can we explain that water is causing so much damage in a region known to be beset by drought and threatened by the encroaching desert? Global warming immediately comes to mind. “Global warming is affecting West Africa more than other regions with a rise of 1.2° Celsius as against an average of 0.7° elsewhere. And the result seems to be an intensification of heavy rainfall episodes”, the French National Research Institute (IRD) observed in 2016. “These episodes are not more frequent than in the past but they are heavier”, says Luc Descroix, director of hydrological research at the IRD, a specialist on the Sahel. “Since 2005, we have established that rainfall in the Sahel is more intense than previously and we believe this is due to global warming. As elsewhere, the phenomenon is producing what are celled ‘extreme events’”.
“This intensification of the hydrological cycle is in keeping with the Claudius-Clapeyron theory, a warmer atmosphere containing more water vapour and thus becoming more explosive”, a group of French scientists wrote two years ago. “It has been observed in other parts of the world, but the Sahel seems to be the area of the African continent where it is most evident”. Thus, the populations of this region are subjected to something akin to double jeopardy. “This climate change has especially serious consequences […] the periods of drought are more severe making crops more uncertain […] and flooding more frequent.”
DEGRADED SOIL THAT CAN NO LONGER ABSORB WATER
However, the multiplication of heavy rainfall episodes is not the only explanation for the flooding in recent years of rivers like the Niger or the Nile. Luc Descroix suggests a further factor: the drought episode that impacted the region so heavily in the seventies and eighties: “For 25 to 30 years, sometimes longer, an area of 4 to 5 million km2 had a rainfall deficit of from 15 to 35%. Today we may consider that this drought episode is over because since 1995 [1999 West of the Sahel], the annual rainfall has returned to the levels and year-to-year irregularity of the first half of the 20th century, the fifties and sixties being considered wet decades.” In his Processus et enjeux d’eau en Afrique de l’Ouest soudano-sahélienne (IRD Éditions, 2018), Luc Descroix wrote that “during that period soils became degraded, one speaks of ’soil-crusting”. Thus climate-induced drought was followed by edaphic or soil-induced drought. When the rains came again, after 1994, reaching their 1940 levels, the soils no longer had the capacity to absorb all that water. This brought about an overland flow which caused the flooding of the waterways.”
According to Luc Descroix, the increased overland flow is also tied in with the way farmers have stripped the soil. In his view, the rapid population growth in Niger since the fifties (from 3.2 million in 1960 to 15.4 million in 2015) has had a serious impact on the use of the soils. The spread of crop cultivation, the curtailing of fallow periods has produced much soil-crusting. “The fallow periods, allowing the earth to recover its original properties and especially those involving the infiltration of rainwater, are no longer respected when the population to feed is over 20 to 30 individuals per km2. Today, in some places, the figure is over 100 and the population is still growing at a brisk pace”, the IRD observed in 2016.
What with climate change and galloping demography, local decision makers would appear to have little leeway. And yet some scientists single out their responsibility … or rather their irresponsibility. Take the case of Niamey. True, the Nigerien capital, on account of its topographical location and the silting up of the Niger River observed over the past few years (and due mostly to desertification and deforestation) is especially vulnerable to flooding. But the risk has been aggravated by uncontrolled urbanisation and the lack of efficient drainage structures.
“In Niamey, the water disposal systems are inadequate and sometimes non-existent, precisely in neighbourhoods known to be most exposed to flooding,” says Hamadou Issaka, research fellow at the Niamey Institut de recherches en sciences humaines (IRSH). “Besides which, people settle in flood-prone areas and the authorities don’t lift a finger, all the while knowing the risks involved”. These bad habits were acquired during the long drought, when it was thought the river would never return to its former level.
Yet our Nigerien researcher rejects the notion of “uncontrolled urbanisation.” In his view, “the flood-prone zones are well known and have been mapped”, but the public authorities and traditional elders do nothing to prevent people settling there. In a study published in 2009, Hamadou Issaka pointed out that “in areas liable to flooding, it was easy for poor people to buy land which was not sought after by the wealthy”. He quoted a neighbourhood chief in the capital who explained the situation in these terms2: “Every seven years the neighbourhood is flooded. Houses often collapse after these floods. The reason for all that is that these people are fed up with renting houses in town. If someone comes along and even if they are forewarned that this is a flood-prone area, they will say ‘no problem’, what matters for them is finding land where they can build a shelter.”
“WHEN PEOPLE ARE CLEARED OUT…”
At regular intervals, people living in flood-prone areas are moved away by the public authorities. But as a former Nigerien Minister of Interior Affairs, who wishes to remain anonymous, pointed out: “when you clear people out, it makes for a lot of tension, because they don’t want to be resettled anywhere else”. “Some people are relocated but they come back despite the risk of losing everything,” Luc Descroix observes.
Various governments have, moreover, undertaken projects to deal with the problem—especially in Niger, Senegal, Burkina—often with the financial and technical backing of donors that have made it one of their priorities. “Increased efforts to prepare for emergencies and anticipate them have been made” noted recently Julie Bélanger, head of OCHA for Central and West Africa. But she also admitted that there is a lack of resources, and “possibly” a lack of real willingness on the part of governments to make the problem an absolute priority.
In Senegal, a controversy arose in the wake of the latest floods. Several homeless people called on the government to honour its promises: what about the drainage systems announced in his last electoral campaign by President Macky Sall and which are still practically non-existent? What about the rehabilitation of the flood zones? What about the 766 billion CFA francs (over 1.06 billion pounds or 1.16 billion dollars) allocated in 2012 to the Ten-Year Program of flood control?
In Niger, authorities have announced the creation of a 372 billion CFA Francs fund (over 519 billion pounds or 671 billion dollars) to relocate the homeless, provide food for them but also to build sanitation facilities and dams in Niamey and other cities across the country. “It’s a good thing, but a bit late,” says Ali ruefully, our homeless contact person from the district of Lamordé. As a teacher, he remembers the day when he and his neighbours were struggling to keep back the river water while the president was hosting in grand style the umpteenth summit of the Economic Community of West-African States (ECOWAS), with sirens screaming across the capital and red carpets rolled out in front of the posh hotels that have sprung up in recent years, and which Issoufou’s backers are so proud of. “With the money used to build those hotels or the new airport, how many culverts could have been laid, or simply used to finance cleaning up the city, how many really solid dams could have been erected?” he wonders. His question is relevant all across the Sahel.
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