Greening the desert: Water solutions for West Africa

This report shows us that there is hope for the people of West Africa.

Author: Reyhana Patel, Elias Fon
Country: International
Category: Climate Change & Food Security

Throughout West Africa, the impact of climate change has been strongly felt over the last 40 years, with increased desertification, cyclical droughts and flooding. As a result, the people of West Africa are suffering from repeated outbreaks of diseases, persistent malnutrition and currently one of the worst cases of food insecurity in the world.

Islamic Relief has always aimed to be effective in alleviating poverty. This can only be achieved if disasters such as droughts and floods are controlled and mitigated.

Islamic Relief believes that much poverty is linked to problems with water. With effective provision of water, communities can get cleaner water and through this they can attain a better diet, improved income generation, better health care, education and much more.

In the past, aid agencies have focused on what they thought was appropriate for the people of Africa to deal with climate change adaptation. This included water provision methods such as boreholes and planting trees to combat environmental degradation. In the main, however, many such measures have failed to make a positive impact in the long term. Some, like boreholes, have in places actually contributed towards over-grazing and increased land degradation.

Islamic Relief has been on the ground in West Africa and has seen at first hand the most effective and sustainable ways to provide access to reliable water for people, animals and agriculture. We have listened to the communities themselves, and they told us the most difficult problems they face are water harvesting and sustaining food security. We have adjusted our priorities and adapted our projects accordingly.

If water can be controlled and food production can be increased, communities can thrive. Based on field work in West Africa and broader research in this area, Islamic Relief has identified what it thinks are the two single most important new initiatives that the communities where we are working need. These are growing the highly drought resilient and adaptable plant sisal to ensure increased food security is available and building reservoirs, lakes and micro-dams to harvest rain water. Investment in these activities has the potential to empower communities and lift millions out of poverty.

The construction of hafirs and micro-dams to harvest rainwater in Sudan and Mali shows what a profound impact such initiatives can have on communities. The use of sisal to provide income generation demonstrates that people like Elizabeth really can provide an income for their families. The fact that community ownership is emphasised in all of these projects also highlights how solutions like these can encourage peace building and empower communities.

Continuous access to water can go a long way in lifting millions out of poverty. Simple solutions like reservoirs and micro-dams are helping millions out of poverty.

But we can’t do it our own. We need the sustained support of our donors and partners. We also need other aid agencies to join the debate, to raise their game and to help find new solutions to age-old problems. Let’s start by listening to communities to see what they need. Let’s observe and engage with them. They can tell us what they need. We can provide it in the most effective way. And together, we can help green the desert and lift them out of poverty.

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