The Horn Of Africa States: Desertification And Water Supplies – OpEd

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The region faces multiple challenges, most of them man-made and hence could be handled. Others are natural such as volcanic activities, land formation, geological infrastructures and, in fact, strategic location. Both man-made and natural phenomenon, however, affect peoples’ lives in the region from food security to water availability to economic production in terms of agricultural, marine and pastoral production, that till this date, remain the main stay of livelihoods in the region.

The region is large and hosts a youthful growing population of some 160 million, which has to be fed, housed, educated, employed, and whose health has to be maintained. However, the natural evolution of the region is being challenged at every front by both man-made and natural disasters. The man-made challenges, themselves comprise of domestic and foreign-inspired factors

The region is drying and receives lesser rains each passing year. Much of the forest lands are cut and hence shrinking, either as fuel for fire and cooking or clear spaces for agriculture, which itself is becoming less productive year after year. This is bad news for the region. Deforestation of the region through the continuing climate change and the warmer weather has affected the terrain and the land extremely negatively to the extent that, the region is becoming desertic and water security is no longer assured.

The economic profile of the region has worsened over the past four decades and this is the period when civil conflicts, inefficient and corrupt governance have remained rampant in the region. The Somali State is worst affected, while Ethiopia the most stable country in the region for over a hundred years, have been destabilized over the past decade, with the new federal regions playing to the tunes of foreign-inspired conspiracies.

The region even hosts foreign forces including those of the United States, China, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy and others such as those of the newly wealthy nations of the Arabian peninsula, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Its transboundary rivers have also strained relations with other neighboring countries such as Egypt and Sudan, who depend on the waters of the Nile sourced from the region and have hence all have negatively affected its food production, its energy requirements, and its general security.

The fact that international assistance to the region is channeled through nongovernmental organizations, has also negatively affected the region for the size of aid and assistance supposedly given to the region in terms of the hundreds of billions in the past four decades, is not apparent in the region. What happened to those funds remains in the unknown and a dark hole. Many well-known institutions work in the region and maybe they should be asked to account for what they did to those taxpayers monies and other monies paid by good people across the globe and collected for the poor people of the region. 

The mounting population pressures and deforestation of the region have not been helpful for the region’s environment, and it is turning into a desert, with the soil erosion that follows every drop of rain when topsoil is washed away by the flash floods and rivers. The accelerated tree loss and the multitude of NGOs that come from many countries to live off the back of those poor citizens of the Horn of Africa States have almost succeeded in converting large parts of the region into inhabitable lands. However, it is not all doom and blue, for the region has also recently embarked on planting trees. Such plant reafforestation is linked to income generation in parts of the region, where communities are provided with the tools necessary for the conservation of the land and the water supplies.

In other parts, storm waters which used to be seen as a problem or which used to run away with much of the topsoil of the lands are being rechanneled into useful water either into dug-out land-water holds lined with plastic sheets to avoid seepage into the ground for later usage or spread to large plains to assist in plant re-invigoration and natural reafforestation.

The old thinking that animals, whether domestic or wild were not good for the lands is being revisited and all animals are being managed with respect to the land in some parts of the region. Instead of animals moving about unnecessarily, they are kept in protected environments and the plants and feedstock they eat are brought to them. This helps farmers to grow income-generating feedstock both for the domestic animals and the wild ones. The carnivorous animals are in danger themselves and need to be conserved for future generations and they should be managed. All of these processes are underway in the region, albeit at low levels, but should be improving in the future.

Managing grazing for both domestic and wildlife has worked in many arid and semi-arid lands and stopped desertification or reduced the pace of desertification. This practice coupled with tree planting by every citizen of the region in his backyard, at least, would change the region’s environment and climate effectively. The more trees there are, the more rain the region would receive, and this would halt the desertification process and hence the water supply.

A reafforestation of the region through managing not only the storm water supplies but also managing the grazing process would revitalize the ecology of the region. In the Horn of Africa States, it is said, that those who do not help themselves should not be helped. It is perhaps time that help to the people should be calibrated by the governments of the region on how much they contribute to the region in terms of each individual paying his/her taxes, each doing his/her job of either farming or animal husbandry or any other job they would be doing.

It is also time that NGOs were stopped to be used for channeling international aid to the region. The governments of the region should be the only channel handling all the funds intended for the region and there should accurate accountability of what they did with the funds, entrusted to them. Those who abuse the funds intended for any specific program (s) should block-listed and recorded in the annals of history.

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected]

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