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  • Desertification: Environmental refugees

    Canada and other wealthy nations should prepare for a flood of environmental refugees, and treat them the same as those who flee political danger, international experts say.

    The number of people fleeing the spread of deserts or climate-change impacts such as drought and flooding is likely to hit 50 million within a decade and soar to between 135 million and 200 million by 2050, says Zafar Adeel, a director of the United Nations University.

    "Regardless of what the exact number is," it will swamp the current global total of 19 million refugees from war, genocide and all other threats, said Adeel.

    While the problem grows, support for solutions is falling, he said. Already-inadequate funding for the UN's land-degradation program dropped by 15 per cent last year.

    The issue will be the focus of a three-day conference, which opens Sunday in Algiers, Algeria. The Canadian International Development Agency is a major sponsor of the conference, which also has funding from Belgium, Iceland and several international and UN agencies.

    At present, those who claim they're environmental refugees are treated as economic refugees, which means they're usually rejected.

    No government anywhere is dealing with this new form of migration, said Janos Bogardi, another director at the UN University, which is based in Tokyo and has branches around the world, including Hamilton.

    That must change, Bogardi said. UN agencies and the Red Cross say they're already helping environmental refugees, "but on an ad hoc and humanitarian basis, without the means to do so on a large scale."

    Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand are likely targets for the exodus, he said.

    Future refugees will flee climate impact

  • #2
    ALGIERS: The UN International Year of Deserts and Desertification has ended with stark warnings from experts about the expansion of uninhabitable zones and an increase in climate-driven migration.

    Desertification - the expansion of desert areas, caused by growing populations and climate changes - is one of the most important global issues, UN Under Secretary-General Hans Van Ginkel said at the start of a three-day conference in the Algerian capital.

    "It has become more and more evident that desertification is one of the most important global challenges, destabilising societies the world over," said Van Ginkel, who is also rector of the United Nations University (UNU), a partner in the event involving around 200 experts from 25 countries.

    Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, host of the conference, said that desertification "affects a third of the surface of our planet, more than the surface of China, Canada and Brazil combined," and is a threat to world peace.

    Bouteflika called in a speech opening the event for a concerted, global effort, saying it was "more urgent that ever" to put into practice measures agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to tackle desertification and preserve non-renewable resources. Around 2 billion people live in areas threatened by desertification.

    The implications for human migration are huge, with estimates today showing that migrants uprooted primarily by environmental factors now exceed the number of political refugees, according to a UNU statement.

    Desertification has been on the world agenda for 50 years but efforts to arrest the problem have been chronically under-funded, and the situation is getting demonstrably worse every year, the organization said.

    It is still not known precisely how fast the process is unfolding, much less how best to address it.

    One of those in attendance was Professor Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, who said poor developing-country households must switch to clean cooking fuels instead of burning crop residue and animal dung.

    This will stop the loss of valuable sources of nutrients needed to forestall desertification and world hunger, Lal said.

    By modestly improving soil quality in developing countries, an extra 20 to 30 million tonnes of food per year could be produced - enough to feed the number of people being added to their populations annually - at a cost of less than two billion dollars (1.5 billion euros) per year.

    Karl Harmsen, director of UNU's Ghana-based Institute for Natural Resources in Africa, noted estimates that Africa may be able to feed just 25 percent of its population by 2025 if the decline in soil conditions continues on the continent.

    UN 'International Year of Deserts' ends with stark warnings

    Comment


    • #3
      by 2050, thus time enough to find solutions? anyone? Seriously, people should be more concerned about their environment.

      Comment


      • #4
        Le président de la République, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a affirmé hier dans son allocution d’ouverture de la conférence internationale sur la désertification que la lutte contre ce fléau devrait être considérée par la communauté internationale comme «l’un des problèmes mondiaux du XXIème siècle». Il a d’ailleurs appelé cette communauté * l’adoption d’une charte mondiale des déserts et de la lutte contre la désertification.

        Devant les représentants des Nations unies, ceux du Fonds pour l’environnement mondial (FEM), les membres du gouvernement et de nombreux experts algériens et étrangers, le chef de l’Etat a tenu * avertir que «l’extension dramatique de la désertification menacera, sans doute, la sécurité alimentaire de nombreux peuples, notamment les plus pauvres» et qu’elle «aggravera et compliquera le fléau de l’immigration.»

        Présentant le cas de l’Algérie qui a connu une grande désertification induite par la déforestation * grande échelle par les forces militaires coloniales, et les efforts menés pour y faire face, le président Bouteflika a mis en exergue la politique mise en œuvre depuis 2000 visant * faire coïncider, notamment, les objectifs d’amélioration de la productivité des ressources naturelles avec ceux de leur utilisation durable. «Nous avons adopté en 1994 et ratifié en 1995 la Convention des Nations unies sur la lutte contre la désertification, et consenti, * cet effet, de lourds investissements», rappelle le Président avant de préciser qu’actuellement «la désertification affecte 1/3 de la surface de notre planète et plus d’un milliard de personnes». Une situation qui générera «des tensions sociales, économiques et politiques très lourdes en raison de la pauvreté, de la famine, de l’insécurité alimentaire et des flux migratoires de réfugiés environnementaux». Affirmant que les résultats les plus dramatiques de ce fléau sont enregistrés sur le continent africain, le premier magistrat du pays n’a pas manqué d’appeler * la mobilisation réelle et * la solidarité effective de la communauté internationale et des pays les plus riches pour soutenir le Nepad, «l’initiative africaine, unique et novatrice qui constitue une réponse résolue, rationnelle et responsable aux défis majeurs qui se posent aujourd’hui * l’Afrique». Il ne manquera pas également de rappeler aux pays riches qu’ils sont «le plus souvent, historiquement, * l’origine de l’état préoccupant de l’Afrique, d’une part, et les plus grands pollueurs de la planète, d’autre part». Le président de la République a enfin soutenu qu’il «est plus que jamais urgent d’assurer la mise en œuvre des programmes de travail complémentaires des trois conventions des Nations unies issues du sommet de la Terre de Rio».

        Le président Bouteflika appelle * l’adoption d’une charte mondiale des déserts

        Comment


        • #5
          Les politiques de lutte contre l’avancée du désert menées jusqu’* maintenant n’ont pas donné de résultats probants dans les pays touchés par ce phénomène, qui menace, selon les experts, 50 millions de personnes dans les dix prochaines années, ce qui aura également un impact sur la migration mondiale. Outre l’absence de moyens et de techniques efficaces pour lutter contre la désertification, par chaque pays concerné, les experts évoquent le refus de la plupart des pays développés, * leur tête les Etats-Unis, d’adhérer aux accords internationaux, tels que le protocole de Kyoto dont l’application permettrait de limiter le réchauffement de la planète et donc la désertification. Des experts algériens et étrangers réunis hier, au palais des Nations, * l’ouverture de la conférence internationale des Nations unies sur la désertification et l’impératif international des politiques de soutien, ont rappelé les chiffres alarmants sur le phénomène de la désertification. Les zones arides représentent 41% de la surface du la planète dont 20% sont dégradées et touchent une population de 2 milliards d’habitants, dont 50% vivent dans un dénuement total. L’Algérie n’est pas épargnée par ce phénomène qui fait des ravages, particulièrement dans le continent noir. Ainsi, 40,000 hectares sont menacés chaque année par l’avancée du désert en Algérie, estiment les experts. Le ministre de l’Environnement et les différents responsables qui sont intervenus * l’ouverture de cette rencontre, ont appelé les pays riches * soutenir financièrement les pays pauvres, notamment le continent africain, pour lutter contre la désertification. Intervenant lors de cette rencontre qui durera trois jours, le secrétaire général adjoint de l’ONU, M. Hans Van Ginkel, a appelé * la mise en œuvre de politiques internationales pour lutter contre la désertification. Selon lui, la conférence d’Alger «doit trouver la démarche adéquate * suivre et identifier les solutions pour tirer le meilleur profit des ressources humaines, technologiques, institutionnelles et aussi financières mondiales pour faire face * ce défi».

          Le représentant des Nations unies a affirmé la disponibilité des différentes parties au sein du système des Nations unies * accompagner les efforts nationaux effectifs dans la lutte contre la désertification, en raison du fait que les gouvernements sont souvent confrontés * un manque de moyens financiers pour mener * bien des politiques efficaces. La conférence d’Alger clôture une année de manifestations organisées dans le cadre de l’Année internationale de lutte contre la désertification 2006, proclamée par l’ONU. Il est * noter que les ministres arabes en charge de l’environnement et du développement durable, sous l’égide de la Ligue arabe, se rencontreront * Alger, mardi et mercredi prochains pour la tenue de leur 18ème conseil, lequel sera axé sur le commerce et l’environnement. La question relative * la lutte contre la désertification sera également * l’ordre du jour.

          40,000 hectares menacés chaque année par l’avancée du désert en Algérie

          Comment


          • #6
            Le désert du Sud pourrait joindre un jour la Méditerranée...

            Comment


            • #7
              Algiers, 29 December 2006 (IPS) - - Two hundred kilometres. A long distance to some, perhaps, but in the context of desertification in Algeria, alarmingly short.

              Going in to 2007, the Sahara will have advanced to within 200 kilometres of the Mediterranean coastline of this North African state. And, warns President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, it may well extend further north to the shores of his country if more concerted action is not taken.

              He was speaking at the third International Festival of Cultures and Civilisations of Desert Peoples, held Dec. 13-20 in the Algerian capital of Algiers. For several years, said Bouteflika, "Algeria lost, each year, 40,000 hectares of its most fertile lands because of desertification."

              Ninety percent of the country is already desert, including the south and a large part of the north. Desertification has also affected 13 million hectares of territory over the past 10 years, according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture.

              Not everyone sounds quite as pessimistic a note as the head of state.

              "The desert is today slowed in its progress towards the north thanks to different initiatives carried out to counter it," says Lakhdar Brouri of the High Commission for Development of the Steppe (Haut commissariat au développement de la steppe, HCDS). (A steppe is a vast plain, covered in grass and typically treeless, which has a semi-arid climate.)

              In the 1970s, a large-scale project called the "green barrier" was introduced. It involved putting in place a stretch of greenery some 400 kilometres long and 150 kilometres wide between the desertified south and Mediterranean north.

              Unfortunately, says Malik Raheb, an agricultural engineer and conservation specialist, the project experienced difficulties. "The destructive overgrazing of the plant cover…and excessive deforestation caused the failure of this initiative," he notes.

              During the same period, 1,000 water points were set up in the desert, and the same number of dykes to divert flood waters from seasonal rivers so that these could be used to fertilise surrounding areas.

              The HCDS was itself established in 1981 to regenerate and protect the Algerian steppe, which extends over an area of 32 million hectares some 200 kilometres to the south of Algiers - and helps protect against the advance of the desert.

              The commission says that since its creation, 2.6 million hectares of steppe have been restored, while seven million still require attention. "Our efforts on the ground have borne fruit. We have given back hope to the population that lives in this region," says Brouri.

              The steppe is inhabited by more than seven million people, out of a total population of some 33 million. Those living in the vast area depend mainly on livestock for their livelihood, the area also being home to some 18 million head of sheep.

              "Today, the desert is very well controlled in Algeria, since the HCDS invested in the land and achieved substantial gains in the fight against desertification," notes Brouri.

              But President Bouteflika has yet to be reassured, saying the various anti-desertification projects have achieved only partial success. Such concerns recently prompted government to set aside 2.5 billion dollars for agencies involved in the fight against desertification, to move ahead with development of the south.

              Algeria worries over desertification

              Comment


              • #8
                ALGIERS, Feb 27 (IPS) - In May, Algeria will inaugurate a reserve around a small oasis in the south-west where plants and animals are to be protected in the service of a broader goal. Hopes are that the Taghit National Park will help stop the advance of the Sahara Desert, which already stretches across almost all of this North African country.

                The project was initiated by the Friends of the Sahara Association - a founder member of the National Committee of Algerian NGOs Against Desertification - and the National Agency for the Conservation of Nature (Agence nationale pour la conservation de la nature, ANCN).

                "The Taghit National Park covers a surface area of 250,000 hectares, which could be extended to 500,000 hectares with the inclusion of the neighboring Guir region," said Amina Fellous, an engineer at ANCN, which is tasked with leading the project.

                The reserve is to include areas isolated from human activity, as well as perimeter zones where various pursuits - even for light and medium-sized industries - will be permitted on condition that they do not pollute, Fellous explained to IPS.

                "In Taghit, any socio-economic activity having negative effects on water resources will not be allowed," she noted.

                The project will seek to protect grasslands and restore palm groves, renew the planting of acacias, and reforest denuded land with indigenous species for the benefit of migratory species. Water points will be established in the park, and efforts made to develop the region's plant genetic resources.

                The list of mammals to be protected makes mention of about 33 species, including the threatened sand dune cat, fennec (a small fox), Barbary sheep and three types of gazelle. (The term Barbary derives from the Berber people, and was formerly used by Europeans to refer to North Africa.)

                To date, no less than 107 species of birds have been documented in the area - but an exhaustive list has yet to be compiled during different seasons, so as to include migratory birds.

                About twenty birds feature on the list of protected species of Algeria. Some, like the houbara bustard, have become the subject of international conservation efforts.

                Sixteen bird species that congregate around the Taghit oasis are considered endemic to North Africa and the Middle East, notably the Barbary partridge, houbara bustard and lanner falcon.

                Furthermore, the Taghit park will aim to protect and promote the archaeological heritage of the area - and to develop tourist facilities that are in harmony with their surroundings.

                Conservation will also support agricultural activity, says Malik Raheb: an agricultural engineer involved in conservation of forests at Ghardaïa, south of the capital - Algiers.

                "The creation of the Taghit National Park, aside from its role of being a barrier to the desert, will also allow a still greater response to the agricultural needs of people in the region, as is already evidenced by the production of tomatoes and potatoes."

                Fighting desertification through conservation

                Comment


                • #9

                  An oasis village buried under the sand

                  The Algerian regions of Touat and Gourara - which cover an area the size of France (400,000 sq km) - are among the hottest places on Earth, with summer temperatures reaching 50° C. The large desert plateaus are circled by the Grand Erg Occidental, an ocean of sand dunes covering more than 2,500sq km.

                  The oases scattered across this vast territory survive on water from the phreatic layer. These deep groundwater deposits occasionally come to the surface, where residents dig wells into water-bearing hillsides and develop underground networks to irrigate the oases below. This method of irrigation, known as foggaras, was originally created by the Babylonians, Persians and Arabs, and was brought to the Touat and Gourara regions in the 10th century, Common Era.

                  Historically, the distribution of water through the foggaras was determined according to each landowner's contribution to the construction and maintenance of the irrigation system. Water quotas have been recorded in registers and handed down through the generations for 11 centuries.

                  The effects of modernization and desertification threaten this ancestral system. During its push for agricultural liberalization in the 1990s, the Algerian government largely abandoned its anti-erosion programmes from the 1960s and 1970s. Many farmers chose to leave the oases, throw themselves into modern agriculture, and dig wells to irrigate large desert expanses.


                  The foggara system distributes water throughout the gardens

                  This trend towards industrial-scale production, particularly of grains and tomatoes, has had an adverse impact on regional water tables. "Unlike traditional agriculture as practised in the oases, situated below the plateaus, modern agriculture takes place on the plateaus, which reduces the flow of underground water," explains Amar Madani, who works in agricultural management.

                  This problem is further compounded by recent discoveries of vast oil and gas reserves in the desert. A large Chinese oil refinery sprung up in Gourara, and other large-scale projects are under way in the region, including in the salt lake of Timimoune, where companies have found gas. "If ever they set up a factory here, it will spell the end of tourism and agriculture in the oases," local tour guide Belgacem El Hadi says.

                  Those living in the oases also bear their share of responsibility for the irrigation system's decline. The foggaras today are in poor shape "because of a lack of maintenance", says Bachir Kendil, a resident of Ouled Said, a Timimoune oasis. "Land owners have long preferred to work in commerce or administration and entrust their land to employees who, in turn, prefer to work for themselves on projects to exploit the land."

                  In 2000, the Algerian government initiated a National Plan for Agricultural Development (PNDA). The plan aims to rehabilitate irrigation systems, to reduce industrial water consumption through the introduction of drip-irrigation systems and to increase agricultural workers' incomes to stem rural flight.

                  However, oasis residents like Blekhiri Ahmed remain unaware of the programme. "Where has this money gone? I've never seen it, and I've never heard of a programme such as this! The palm trees are dying one after another, the water is becoming more and more scarce, and people here are disenchanted with working on the land."

                  Comment


                  • #10

                    TRIPOLI - A workshop on combating desertification took place in the Libyan capital in an attempt to study the best methods to revive interest and promote investment in the dried lands of the Arab Maghreb countries.

                    Experts from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, and Libya met during the workshop to present related research, exchange experiences and strategies, and discuss the economic benefits of combating desertification.

                    At the end of the two-day workshop, the participants provided a set of recommendations that included; conducting further studies that focus on the economic benefits of combating desertification, publish a more comprehensive guide to plants, unifying the terminology used among Arab Maghreb countries regarding the field, and draw out maps of the areas of deserts and dry lands in the Maghreb region.

                    Present at the workshop was Dr. Abu Bakr El Mansouri, Secretary of the Libyan General Popular Committee for Agriculture, livestock and fishery, who said during his opening address that the severe weather conditions of desert areas and the shortage of resources has a direct effect on the agriculture development programmes in the region and it is a threat to the Maghreb countries’ food production.

                    “Unsuitable agricultural practices and the misuse of land and irrigation water have contributed to the increase of desertification,” said El Mansouri.

                    After the conclusion of the workshop, participants invited to witness a ‘field day’ that exhibits practical methods of combating desertification.

                    Engineer Adnan Gebril, Director of Agricultural development at the Libyan General Popular Committee for Agriculture, livestock and fishery, told MEO that the displayed methods is one of the best ways to combating desertification.

                    “The aim of introducing such technology is to reduce the reliance on chemical usage when dealing with fruits and vegetables, and preserving our water resources,” said Gebril.

                    “The idea is to rely on solar power instead of Methyl bromide gas to improve the ventilation procedure, which prevents pests from entering,” added Gebril.

                    The workshop, organized by the Arab Maghreb Union, in coordination with the Libyan General Popular Committee for Agriculture, livestock and fishery, was held between 25th March and 27th March.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      02/04/07 -- Desertification will drive 65 million Africans to seek refuge in the West, an Algerian minister warned Monday at the opening of a conference on the problem.

                      Cherif Rahmani, minister for territorial planning, said that by 2025 the number of people living in deserts would have doubled to two billion people, including 750 million in Africa.

                      He called for international cooperation to stop the increasing degradation of land.

                      It needed 400 million dollars over three or four years to transform a hectare (2.47 acres) of semi-arid land into ground that could be cultivated, he said.

                      "Desertification loses the world economy 48 billion dollars a year, including nine billion in Africa," said Abdesselam Chelghoum, the general secretary of the Algerian ministry for agriculture and rural development.

                      The conference on desertification, which was jointly organised by the Algerian parliament and the Pan-African parliament, runs until Wednesday.

                      Participants include representatives from 20 African countries, European deputies and international specialists in the field.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Mardi 3 avril 2007 -- «La désertification est un problème complexe, multidisciplinaire et multisectoriel nécessitant une approche globale qui tienne compte de domaines aussi variés les uns que les autres pour une lutte efficace et coordonnée avec des mesures préventives, un suivi rigoureux et une évaluation continuelle sur le terrain.» C’est ce qui ressort des travaux d’atelier sur la désertification en Afrique ouverts hier * Alger et qui s’étaleront sur trois jours.

                        «Il s’agit impérativement de sensibiliser les populations sur le danger que représente le phénomène de la désertification * travers le continent», a souligné le président de la commission économie rurale, agriculture et environnement au parlement panafricain, M. Bachir Chara, lors de la cérémonie inaugurale de cet atelier.

                        Soutenant que la désertification est un phénomène dégradant, le président de cette commission a exhorté les membres participants africains et algériens * se pencher sérieusement sur la question afin de préserver la nature et sauver, de la sorte, les populations qui vivent dans le Sahara, notamment celles du continent africain.

                        Et d’ajouter qu’une étude récente a démontré que les terres arides ont avancé d’une manière vertigineuse allant de 100 000 * 140 000 kilomètres entre 1980 * 1990. Il a indiqué que le sol africain se dégrade de plus en plus, notamment avec les feux de forêt qui ne finissent pas de faire des ravages dans les récoltes et les terres.

                        Il a noté que même les changements climatiques accentuent le phénomène de la désertification. Pour ne pas être tributaire du désert, nonobstant la diversité des richesses qu’il recèle, l’orateur a précisé que les Etats-Unis d’Amérique sont en train de développer des nouvelles stratégies afin de vivre en dehors des recettes pétrolières.

                        M. Chara a fait part, en outre, des achats de céréales pour le continent africain qui se multiplieront * l’horizon 2020, pour atteindre quelque 60 millions de tonnes, soit 14 milliards de dollars, alors que l’achat ne représentait que 43 millions de tonnes, soit 3,8 milliards de dollars en 2006.

                        De son côté, le ministre de l’Environnement et de l’Aménagement du territoire, M. Chérif Rahmani, a estimé que la recherche scientifique et technologique en matière de lutte contre la désertification ne peut être abordée qu’en réseaux de recherches intégrés s’articulant autour de programmes mobilisateurs incluant les équipes de recherches et les institutions concernées, organisées tant au niveau national, régional qu’international.

                        «Nous sommes au bord d’une grave crise en Afrique», a souligné le ministre, avant d’appeler * la consolidation des efforts dans la lutte contre la désertification, dont deux tiers du territoire algérien sont affectés. «Il faudrait proposer un seuil de protection immédiat et une bonne gouvernance», a-t-il encore déclaré aux participants * ce séminaire panafricain.

                        Présent pour sa part, le secrétaire général du ministère de l’Agriculture, M. Abdeslam Chelghoum, a précisé que l’Algérie connaît un grave problème de désertification, dont les conséquences s’observent au double plan économique et écologique.

                        Il a fait savoir que l’Etat algérien a mis en œuvre divers projets nationaux de recherche (PNR) et programmes pour la lutte contre la désertification, tel celui de reboisement sur 20 ans. Du même avis que celui du ministre, il a appelé * intensifier les efforts afin de trouver les mesures de lutte efficientes contre ce phénomène, que ce soit sur le plan national qu’international.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          ALGIERS (Reuters) - Africa's cereal supply costs will soar and millions more Africans will seek to migrate if deserts keep expanding at their present rate, Algeria's environment minister said in remarks published on Wednesday.

                          Newspapers quoted minister Cherif Rahmani as saying he estimated Africa's annual cereal supply costs would reach about $14 billion in 2020 for projected consumption of 60 million tonnes, compared with $3.6 billion in 2006 for 43 million tonnes, if desertification was not tackled.

                          Rahmani was speaking at a workshop on desertification jointly organized by Algeria's parliament and the Africa Union's Pan-African Parliament.

                          Algeria is among the world's biggest wheat importers, shipping in five million tonnes each year at a cost of about $1 billion.

                          Africa has lost over 140 million hectares to desert in the past decade, the head of the Pan African Parliament's economic commission, Chara Bachir, told the conference.

                          Rahmani said the spread of deserts would swell the flow of Africans fleeing poverty at home for economic opportunities in rich countries, newspapers including El Watan and El Moujahid said.

                          "Desertification will push 65 million Africans to seek refuge in the West," he said without elaborating.

                          Rahmani said that by 2025 the number of people living in deserts around the world would have doubled to two billion, including 750 million in Africa, and called on the international community to do far more to protect the land.

                          He said it took on average three to four years and about $400 million to transform a hectare of semi-arid land in Africa into fertile ground.

                          Participants at the workshop include representatives from 20 African countries, European deputies and international specialists in desertification.

                          Comment


                          • #14

                            CHINGUETTI, Mauritania — On nights when the wind hisses across the dunes, a man sits on his straw mat, draws a blanket around his shoulders and counts his dwindling money.

                            In the morning, Sidahmed Ould Magaya, 75, will be trapped inside his concrete one-room house, the wooden door sealed shut by a wall of sand accumulated overnight. In exchange for about $6, workers will liberate him, hauling the yellow sand away in burlap bags.

                            At that rate, he has to sell a goat a month to pay for keeping the desert at bay in a country where the dunes are said to be shifting at an estimated 4 to 6 miles per year, according to government data.

                            Throughout Mauritania, a desolate, dune-enveloped country twice the size of France, men and women wage a daily battle against the sand.

                            With less rain falling now than in years past, the dunes have become dry and unstable. Global climate change bears part of the blame, as does the uprooting of the scraggly trees that once dotted the landscape to use as camel feed, firewood or for insulation, leaving nothing to bind the sand.

                            When the winds whip the land, the dunes advance like fingers, overtaking walls, forcing their way into courtyards and creeping under doors. Whole houses are swallowed. Entire cities have been abandoned.

                            "When I built my house, I chose this spot because it was flat. Now there's a mountain outside," says Magaya of his house, now free of sand but precariously positioned at the edge of an advancing dune. His front door opens onto the face of the dune, which rises sharply upward and crests just above the roof.

                            A wave of sand has crashed into his neighbor's home, swallowing the front door, forcing the family to use the back entrance. In the towns under the most sand, families go in and out of their windows. Snow plows crisscross the national highway, pushing sand aside to let cars through.

                            Europe and North America have hurricanes, floods and snowstorms; the nations lying across the Sahara — Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and the southern edges of Libya, Algeria and Egypt — have sand, and a warming planet is making it less predictable.

                            Surface temperatures have risen by a little over 1 degree in the last century, said Patrick Gonzalez, a climate scientist on the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The rise in the temperature of the Earth, as well as of the Atlantic Ocean bordering Mauritania, has had an effect on rainfall: It's down 20 percent from the 1950s.

                            Without moisture to keep the sand in clumps, it moves freely, dissipating in a yellow mist.

                            "It's a vicious cycle, brought on by the changes in our climate and worsened by the actions of mankind," said Moustapha Ould Mohamed, who heads the National Research Center on Desertification in Mauritania.

                            Although it is now illegal to cut much of the vegetation, desert dwellers refuse to live without some plants — for example "alfa," a shrub used as roof insulation. Those living here say they often see donkeys in town laden with alfa.

                            "The battle against the dunes cannot be uncoupled from the battle against poverty. If these people don't have an alternative, they will continue to cut the trees," said Mohamed Lemine Ould Cheikh El Hadrami, Mauritania's environment secretary.

                            In last year's 109-page action plan, the Mauritanian government proposed measures such as creating a green belt around threatened cities and planting sticks in formations that halt the flow of sand.

                            Although commissioned by the government, the plan gets no money in Mauritania's budget, underscoring an inability to grasp the threat, said Mounkaila Goumandakoye, the acting director of the U.N. Development Program's Drylands Development Center.

                            "What's happening in Mauritania is dramatic, and something needs to be done," he said. "Politicians are used to doing things to improve their country's GDP [gross domestic product]. They haven't yet understood the link between the advance of the dunes and their economic health."

                            In the arid interior, where the dunes undulate like the surface of the sea, that link is all too obvious.

                            Dates are the backbone of the desert economy, but cones of sand now surround some of the oldest palm trees, and once the cone reaches the fronds, the tree suffocates.

                            In 1960, the town of Chinguetti had 18 square miles of date-bearing palms. Now, not even 5 acres remain, Mayor Mohamed Ould Amara said.

                            In the 19th century, it was Mauritania's most populous town with 20,000 people. It's now down to 3,000, he said, with more than 300 of its 1,000 homes abandoned.

                            "We're under an ocean of sand," the mayor said.

                            Among the palms still standing are a dozen owned by Magaya. He's running out of goats to sell each time his door needs digging out, and counts on the palms to finance his old age.

                            He takes comfort in the fate he knows awaits him.

                            "When I die, I'll be put in a coffin and that coffin will be buried in the sand," he said. "So I can't be upset. Either way, I'll end up in the dirt."

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                            • #15
                              An international workshop entitled 'Desertification: what future for Africa?' was held April 2nd to 4th in Algiers. The event was organised by the Pan-African Parliament in collaboration with the National Popular Assembly (APN). Several experts from international organisations and institutions took part in the meeting:

                              An international conference on desertification concluded Wednesday (April 4th) in Algiers. The attendees issued a final statement, dubbed the Algiers Appeal, which urged all African countries to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate changes. The statement said the move would help African countries gain access to international financing aimed at fighting climate change and desertification. Representatives of 20 African countries, international experts and members of the European Parliament attended the three-day event, jointly organised by the Algerian parliament and the Pan-African parliament.

                              The focus of the conference was the development of an effective African strategy to combat desertification and its direct consequences on the countries of Africa. Commissions representing both national and regional authorities on matters of rural economies, agriculture, natural resources and the environment agreed on the need to honour their commitments to fight desertification. The participants also called on African nations to step up regional co-operation in water management and discussed establishing a regional observatory on desertification.

                              Malik Raheb, an agronomics engineer working in forest conservation for the wilaya of Ghardaia, 800 km south of Algiers, is delighted that the conference was organized. Events such as these, he says, "are all part of the general move to stop the desert's advance, which weighs so heavily on the economies and environments of African countries, pushing them further and further into poverty, and driving a general exodus."

                              Speaking at the conference, World Deserts Foundation president and Algerian Minister of the Environment and Territorial Planning Cherif Rahmani warned that by 2025, the number of people living in deserts will double to 2 billion people, including 750 million in Africa, which would drive at least 65 million Africans to immigrate to Europe.

                              Members of the two parliaments also discussed the human impact on desertification, such as the over-exploitation of agricultural land and climate change and its impact on the environment.

                              Conference participants reviewed Algeria's efforts to control desertification, calling the country's policies into question. Mouloud Arkoub, professor of agronomics at the University of Tizi-Ouzou feels that "Algeria should redouble its efforts to halt the advance of the desert which creeps up on the northern regions and their people."

                              "Heavy industries, which drive climate change," are, according to Arkoub, "among the main causes of this evil which prowls the earth, especially Africa, which is struggling to overcome it."

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