The area that is now the Sahara desert was once home to fertile land that supported the people who lived there, but creeping desertification has left the land all but inhabitable, plunging people into poverty and driving many to migrate.
To address the problem, the African Union launched the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative more than 13 years ago. The idea behind the initiative was to restore a massive strip of desert stretching (5,000 miles) from the Atlantic to the Red Sea by planting trees and grasslands. The GGW was intended to recreate sustainable ecosystems, encourage climate-smart agriculture, and create millions of jobs.
While the intention was to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, the reality is that only four million hectares have been restored between 2007 and 2019. A United Nations (UN) report released last year showed that in order to reach the intended target, the current pace of land restoration would have to speed up to an average of 8.2 million hectares each year.
To help make that happen, French President Emmanuel Macron announced this week that development banks and states will pledge a total of $14.32 billion over the next four years to build the Great Green Wall. That is 42 percent of the estimated $33 billion needed to achieve the GGW’s ambitions.
So, why the sudden injection of money? Beyond a desire to curb the environmental damage caused by desertification, a central reason behind the financial boost is that it could help put struggling North African countries on a sustainable path towards economic recovery in a post-Covid world.
As always, we’ll be keeping an eye out as this story unfolds.