Niger's 'green lung' facing suffocation

2011-11-02 10:35
Niamey - Once lush and abundant, the "green belt" surrounding Niger's capital of Niamey, created 50 years ago to try and halt the advance of the Sahara desert, is dying a slow death.

A rural exodus has taken its toll on Niger's greenest project, as populations left destitute by low crop yields move to the capital and cut down its trees to make ends meet.

"I have cut down dozens of these trees here," said Ali Moumouni, who lives in the downtrodden northern Niamey neighbourhood of Ouallam. "I sell the wood to survive."

A few metres away, men equipped with axes are clearing an area where they can build huts, under the watchful eye of their families. They have abandoned the countryside for the capital to try and earn some money.

"We have had a poor harvest this year so we have come to set up home here," explained Adamou Foumo, speaking in the local language, Djerma.

Land-locked Niger, one of the world's hottest and poorest nations, is already largely desert with a subsistence-based economy. The capital is located in a small fertile region in the south, where much of the country's 16 million population lives.

Niger's green belt took nearly 30 years to grow. Tree planting started in 1965, five years after the country proclaimed independence from France, and ended in 1993.

Funding for the $6.2m project came mainly from abroad, said Niger's environment ministry.

"The idea was to make a wall of trees around the city to keep out the dust and stop the desert from advancing," a former project advisor who did not give his name told AFP.

African great wall

"And the job was done. A green wall 25km long and 1km wide crosses Niger from east to west."

Man-made green belts are increasingly a subject of discussion in Africa amid concerns over desertification.

African leaders are pushing for the planting of a massive green belt, nicknamed the "Great Green Wall of Africa", which would cut right across the continent from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, covering 7 775km.

The African great wall has the same aim as the Niamey green belt -- to hold back the mighty Sahara by planting drought-adapted species that would slow soil erosion and help rain water filter into the ground, effectively curbing the Sahara's spread south.

It would also aim to produce richer soil for local communities who rely on the land for agriculture and grazing.

But a lack of funding means the project has not yet gotten off the ground.

And while Niger's "green lung" did once breathe more freely, it is now in severe decline.

Almost half of its original 2 000-hectare surface area has disappeared.

"Things started to go wrong for the green belt when hundreds of rural people fled to the capital to escape the severe famine of 1984," remembered Hama Moussa, an ex-watchman at the belt site.

New neighbourhoods have started to spring up close to the area with names like "Iraq", "Kuwait" and "Little Paris" where hundreds of families live in straw huts or other makeshift shelter.

In 2008, some 2 000 squatters had their homes razed by bulldozers sent in by the authorities but nothing further was done.

The Green belt

"To survive, people just cut down the trees to make roofs and sell the rest in town," said Niamey resident Salifou Gourouza indignantly.

"With such excessive deforestation, the 'green belt' may disappear altogether," warned Abdoulaye Maizama, an official with the water and forests department.

A 2004 law that threatens anywhere from three months to two years' imprisonment for offenders has done little to discourage residents.

But it is not just Niamey's new arrivals - petrol stations, car parks, fancy houses and mosques for Niger's predominantly Muslim population have all infiltrated the green belt.

There are other factors too, according to the private press which regularly accuses local authorities of selling plots of land in the green belt to rich businessmen, knowing that any building there is theoretically outlawed.

The belt has also become a sort of open-air wasteland, said Niamey's fire service, where blazes - deliberate or accidental - regularly ravage the zone.

Nevertheless Niger's government is trying to show it has not forgotten its green belt. On August 03 - the anniversary of Niger's independence - as every year, thousands of new trees were planted.

Read more on:    niger  |  west africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
3 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Motoring
 

Thirty and still single? There’s hope!

Are you thirty and still single, without even a hint of a prospect on the horizon? Then read this!

 
 

Men24.com

SA’s Playboy Playmate of the year in action!
12 lies everyone accepts as fact
Hottie of the day: Charlotte
Breakup text goes viral and it’s hilarious!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

Good Morning, Mr Mandela by Zelda la Grange

Good Morning, Mr Mandela tells the extraordinary story of how a young woman had her life, beliefs, prejudices and everything she once believed in utterly transformed by the greatest man of her time. Now R221. Pre-order now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

It may be hard to stay cool, calm and collected. Your emotions can get quite heated in the moment. You may benefit from finding a...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.