The future of the Sahel

The 3 000 km2 land mass immediately to the south of the Sahara, the Sahel region and the countries that border it occupy one of the poorest and most environmentally degraded strips of land on earth. The Sahel stretches from Senegal to Eritrea and Djibouti on the Red Sea. In this semi-arid zone, climate change is already a reality and future temperature increases are projected to be 1.5 times higher than the global average. The climate vulnerability of impoverished populations is compounded by their high dependence on rain-fed agriculture for food security and livelihoods. 



The region is already enduring chronic humanitarian crises due to recurrent drought, flooding, food insecurity, epidemics, and violent conflict. Shorter rainy seasons, longer dry seasons and desertification compound the conflicts over limited and unevenly distributed natural resources. In July 2021, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that intensifying conflicts from Ethiopia to Burkina Faso had driven 3 million people to flee their countries. In the Western Sahel, a further 2 million are internally displaced in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger alone. In August 2021, the World Food Programme warned that 14.5 million people in these three countries required immediate food assistance. 
Through programmes such as the EU GCCA+, the European Union has provided significant support to build social and environmental resilience to climate change. In addition, the region – indeed the world – has put the hope of a sustainable future in a bold, African-led plan to build a wall of vegetation the length of the Sahel.

The Great Green Wall (GGW), which was started in 2007, was initially based on tree planting. It has evolved to include a complex set of ecological, social and economic tools and partners whose aim is to develop a ‘mosaic of resilient land-use systems’ with the capacity to adapt to uncertainty and climatic extremes. The EU has pledged at least EUR 80 million to support the restoration of 100 million hectares of degraded land, to sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon, and to create 10 million new green jobs.
In 2020, the United Nations reported just 4 million hectares of the GGW’s 2030 land-restoration objective had been achieved. The lack of finance and insufficient scale are key challenges. At the One Planet Summit in January 2021, donors pledged to raise USD14.3 billion (EUR 11.8 billion) over the next five years to implement a continental shift towards integrated sustainable land management. Better agricultural and rural development, food security, biodiversity conservation and more sustainable resource use will also reduce some of the key drivers of conflict and migration – making its successful implementation a priority not just for Africa, but for the world as a whole.