Desertification Part II, the History of the Sahara Desert! (Attem
By, Uwe Paschen.
The History of the Sahel Desert is a very long and fascinating one as well! Human have lived, hunted and farmed here for the longest time of all areas on this Planet Earth!
The first Humans lived here already 70,000 Years ago long before Europe and Asia was Populated! The impact of humans on this region can be traced back to the beginning of the Homo Sapiens. This area that is known today as the Sahel and the Sahara Desert was once a real paradise of lush vegetation, diverse Animals and Insects Species as well as the greatest Genetic Variety of Humanoids!
What happened here was always believed to be of Natural causes and be on human control. This however does not seem to be the case as some studies and research are showing today! The Sahara seems to be Man made after all! This happened over a very long period and due to some climate changes that put the area under stress, yet it was Human factor that gave it the death blow due to over population and abuse of the land and fauna!
In the 1960 a trial was done in the Sahel zone, in Niger, this was conducted by Hartmut Paschen, my Father yes! The Government agreed to fence off a large area of the dessert and let it be, neither human nor Animal where allowed even near that area.
The Idea was to find out if Nature could heal it self, if we took the Human factor out as well as grassing from Domestic and wild animals!
After Four Years, a first rainfall came and the area was lush Green again, this vegetation did dye of after the draught set in again, yet the trees and bushes remained even though they seemed dead at first glance and rather minuscule! As the second rain came Eight Years later all was green again, this time however one could see the trees and bushes growing and establishing them self again! The draught returned yet the trees and bushes even though dormant survived until the next rain!
The conclusion was that the Sahara could recover by it self if we took the Mammals out of the area for about two centuries!
That of course would be rather hard to do, so some at the BMZ, the GTZ, JICA and the Australian equivalent came up with the Idea to help mother Nature a little by building a green wall and planting bushes and trees of a fair size to speed up the process! This project included all Sahel Countries other than Libya.
It was a great Idea, yet failed totally due to two mistakes that where made!
One being the introduction of foreign species to the area that ended up killing local vegetation adapted to the Sahel zone, such has the introduction of Eucalyptus Trees from Australia!
Second, was the Human factoring again, the locals started cutting the trees and use them as firewood as they always did! The habits had not changed and now that there was an abundance of trees, again the use of firewood to keep warm in the cold desert nights was more practiced once again due to the available planted wood!
Well needless to say, not much is left of that green wall today!
Even though the rain falls over the Sahel zone have steadily been increasing over the past four decades, the expansion of the Sahara desert has been faster then ever, not due to lack of rain as some may believe, yet due to an increase in the Human population and of domestic animals overgrazing the area to the point that no tree nor any bush can reestablish it self any longer!
Abstract ( from Web link below)
["The Continental Terminal water-table near Niamey (S-W Niger) has been the subject of a dense and detailed survey conducted over a period of almost 15 yr. The continuous rise in the groundwater level was unexpected but manifest and varied between 0.01 and 0.45 m yr−1. As shown by corroborating measurements made throughout the twentieth century, this rise has been taking place for much longer and present levels are the highest ever recorded. Since the beginning of the 1960s, groundwater resources have increased by up to 150% (+15% on median), in spite of the severe droughts of the 1970s and 1980s. Based on isotopic data, infiltration is estimated at around 5 mm yr−1 for median over the long-term. Hydrodynamic observations show that in recent years it has exceeded 20 mm yr−1. The rise acceleration during the past decade is apparent from groundwater level chronicles. Even if fluctuations in rainfall may interfere, this phenomenon is mainly explained by a change in land-use. In this semi-arid area, intense land clearing has modified the hydraulic properties of the top cm of the soil and has consequently increased surface runoff. As runoff concentrates in temporary endoreic ponds and then infiltrates to the water-table, higher runoff implies higher groundwater recharge and a subsequent rise in the water-table. This is one of the best documented examples of a long-term rise of an African water-table in such a semi-arid context."]
In 1976 a Tourist managed to cut down the oldest and only remaining tree of the Tenere Desert! The remains of the tree are to be fund in the "Muse National du Niger" in Niamey today. That tree was over 2000 years old and survived all this time because the Nomads made it holly and no one was allowed to touch it or harm it since it was also a beacon for the caravans to orientate them self by!
After the failure of the Green wall project and the death of the last and oldest tree of the Sahara Desert in the Tenere valley the Governments of Niger, Mali, Algeria, Tunisia, Chad and Cameroon, invested with the help of the EU and the UNO into a massive education program to change people habits and to stop bad agricultural practices as well as cutting trees for firewood, That was burned with a great waist of energy! New wood stoves where introduces and solar energy as well as the use of cow manure as combustibles!
All sounded well and looked well at first; one problem remained though, namely population explosion in the Moslem as well as in the Christian and Pagan population.
This was followed by political unrest and coups as well as corruption!
After 1989 most projects where abandoned and all went back to the old ways!
Most of those countries in the Sahara Desert and the Sahel zone are not poor; they have great resources such as Oil, Uranium and precious metals! However, the money ends up in the wrong hands and is not reinvested into education and new projects! Part of the blame can be given to Industrialised countries that fight each other over the control of the Resources in Africa by arming rebel groups and corrupting governments in order to control the resources for them self! The other problem may be the still existing Cast system and rivalry of the diverse Clans and Pre Colonial Kingdoms that the randomly traced borders by the Colonial powers has left in a mixing pot that put Africa into chaos!
Camara Lay, Cameroon’s most respected Philosopher said in 1968,” All foreign Nations need to leave Africa and let it die so that Africa may live again, Put a fence around Africa and let the Lions out, come back in a century and all will be fine for Africa would have risen up again out of its own aches!”I was always against this statement and believed it to cruel and yet today I fear he may have been right all along!
Abstract: (From web link below)
["In the Sahel region of West Africa, decades of scant rainfall and poor farming techniques have left a legacy of creeping desertification. Local people, researchers and human rights activists alike are struggling to cope with the heavy human and environmental toll.In this feature, Nico Colombant examines the damage and what is being done about it.Newly arrived desert rodents are one of the biggest problems. These can ravage crops, and also spread diseases through ticks. Borreliosis, for instance — an illness characterised by recurrent fevers — is so similar to malaria that it is frequently misdiagnosed and treated with the wrong medicine."]
Now, there is hope though, especially with countries such as Libya leading the way and hopefully other will follow them.
Libya has invested and is still investing a fortune into education and reforestation as well as irrigation and new ways of Agriculture in the Sahel Zone that are remarkable, yet Libya has followed Camara Lay his advice and stayed independent with out Western Multi Nationals controlling its resources nor tolerating any super power to control its government or armed forces! The Libyan model even though its leader is much disliked by some Western Countries. The Libyan model though, may be what saved Libya from the chaos that other are confronted with today!
Third Part will follow!
(Sorry about the Graph and pictures, I had to remove those since they did not show up!)