Turning the tide in Africa’s 5000-year fight against desertification

Did you know that the Sahara Desert used to be green?

The vast expanse of dusty desert and blistering sand was, 9000 years ago, a lush green savannah. This period was known as the ‘Neolithic Subpluvial’, a time of mega-lakes surrounded by grasslands and wildebeest and early human settlements[1].

Then, about 5000 years ago, the rains stopped. The climate shifted and the sands rolled in. And it didn’t stop there. Ever since that time the people of the Sahel have been fighting an endless fight to save their crops and land and livelihoods against the ever-encroaching sand. In short, the fight against desertification.

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Artist’s impression of the Neolithic Subpluvial, or ‘Green Sahara’, circa 9000 years ago (Source: http://www.deviantart.com/9weegee).

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Satellite photo of the Sahara today (Source: http://www.nasa.gov)

 

The UN Environment Programme has estimated that 35% of the earth’s land surface is under threat from desertification. That’s an area the size of North and South America combined. And threatening 850 million people. Every year, some 21 million hectares are reduced to a state of near or complete uselessness – exacerbated by human activity and deforestation[2].

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Desertification vulnerability in Africa (Source: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov)

We at CO2balance have unfortunately witnessed this firsthand. In previous posts on this blog, Project Coordinator Moses has shared his experiences of deforestation in Africa. In Kenya he says, without forests the country would be little more than a desert.

Nowhere is this more apparent than along the edge of the Sahara. Since 1920 the desert has expanded by about 10% – 800,000 km² of agricultural land swallowed up by the desert, forcing millions to migrate[3]. If nothing is done, this will only get worse.

Thankfully, we ARE doing something – communities and organisations are taking big strides to combat this threat. Dozens of programmes have sprung up; from local-scale “Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration” (in which rural farmers lead the fight), to national action programmes like Kenyan Minister of Environment Judy Wakhungu’s plan to reforest the country, to (a personal favourite) the plan for the ‘Great Green Wall of Africa’ – the seemingly outlandish plan to grow an 8,000km-long line of trees, 48km deep, across the entire Saharan border, from the Atlantic coast of Senegal to the Red Sea coast of Djibouti as a monumental ‘natural’ defence. Sounds incredible (as in, not-credible), but it was launched by the UNCCD and African Union and planting has already begun – in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger and Ethiopia. As of March 2019, 15% of the wall has been completed[4]. (I would go on about this further but frankly it deserves a blog all by itself! For now, go check it out: https://www.greatgreenwall.org/).

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The Great Green Wall of Africa (highlighted in yellow) and the plan to stop the Sahara in its tracks (Source: http://www.nationalgeographic.org)

 

We at CO2balance are doing what we can to aid this fight. Our projects, whether safe water or clean cookstoves, all have the upshot that they drastically reduce the amount of firewood that rural people are burning in their everyday lives. This drastically cuts levels of deforestation in the area. Without deforestation, shrubs and trees are not felled, which means that the midday sun will not dry and desiccate the soil, nor will organic matter and organisms be lost, thus retaining agricultural productivity, biodiversity, supporting human health and livestock and eco-tourism[1].

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We are proud to say that, since 2013, our projects have helped save over 2.5 million tonnes of wood (about 73km2 of forest) across Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Not to blow our own trumpet too much though. At the end of the day, whilst these are successes, they constitute a drop in the ocean of sand that is desertification. Real, large scale change requires international cooperation and mass public awareness.

In 17th June 1994, the UN launched the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), to meet this challenge. Today, 25 years on, we celebrate the Silver Anniversary of the “World Day to Combat Desertification” (#2019WDCD), celebrating all that we’ve achieved, but recognising how much further we have to go.

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The theme of this Silver Anniversary celebration: “Let’s Grow the Future Together” (Source: http://www.un.org)

The arid and semi-arid lands of Africa, under greatest threat, are home to about 400 million Africans[5]. Their plight will surely intensify with climate change. But, with international action like the ‘Great Green Wall’, and mass small-scale resistances like CO2balance’s projects, we can hope to turn the tide.

For now then, take a look at a few of the special 25th Anniversary projects taking place today and share these stories to raise awareness of the fight against desertification: https://www.unccd.int/actions17-june-world-day-combat-desertification/2019wdcd-events-around-world

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Economic Development and Opportunities for Entrepreneurialism Through Safe Water: The Story of Jaspher and Susan in Lango sub region, Uganda

Jaspher Opio is a proud beneficiary of the CO2balance Safe Water project in Lango sub region, Northern Uganda. Jaspher lives in a village called Agengi in Dokolo District. He and his wife Susan have two children and 5 dependents. Susan and the family collect water from Aminalucu Borehole which is 250 meters away from their household.

According to Jaspher, before CO2balance intervention, people around his village used to collect water from very unsafe source. Villagers would spend lot time collecting water and fuel for purification. The main source at that time was an open well which had become a health hazard due to poor water quality. Also, children risked drowning in the well.

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Aminalucu Borehole (for domestic use) in Dokolo District, Uganda

‘I am a proud owner of a nursery tree seedling business which I started two years ago and this has increased my household income from 2,500,000 to 5,000,000 Uganda Shillings per season. I grow different tree species like Malaina, Clone Eucalyptus, Pines, and Ashock’ says Japher.

He adds that the initial investment cost for the nursery bed was 2,470,000 UGX (around £500), which he acquired as a loan from a village savings group.

According to Opio, his nursery bed employs 5 workers: two males and three females who are also water users of Aminalucu borehole.

‘the 3 female employees who work for me also live close to the borehole and say that they are now able to work at the tree seedling nursery because they no longer spend long hours in search of water’ added Japher.

Japher’s wife Susan, together with the adult dependents in their household, also help him at the nursery business which initially was not possible because they spent hours travelling long distances in search of water before the borehole was rehabilitated.

Currently his nursery bed is having 1,700 root stocks capable of raising 30,000 to 40,000 seedling of Eucalyptus trees whose potential average total sales is 24,000,000 UGX per year (around £5,000). Japher intends to invest this income in expanding his boda boda (motor cycle transport) business and also start a free range poultry system which will be managed entirely by his wife.

Susan is so happy with the time saved in collecting water from far off sources because she’s able to use it to support their family businesses and contribute to the household income.

The Lango Safe Water Project reduces CO2 emissions by removing the need for households to boil water as a treatment method. As well as reducing CO2 emissions, the project provides safe drinking water and greatly reduces the time spend collecting water and firewood, and reduces the time spent boiling the water. As shown by the story of Jaspher and Susan, this time can be investing in businesses which benefit the household and the wider community through employment.

Water, sanitation and hygiene training in Kaliro, Uganda

In May, CO2balance in-country partner WAACHA conducted WASH training in Kaliro District, Uganda.

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The purpose of the annual training is to sensitise the communities on important issues such as keeping the area around the borehole clean and storing water correctly. The training takes place every year to reinforce these values.

These important visits ensure that the project boreholes can be properly maintained by the communities, thus protecting the long-term future of the water point. The practises and techniques taught also help protect the groundwater from contamination and ensure that the water is stored safely at home.

The Kaliro Safe Water project reduces CO2 emissions by providing communities with safe water, so they no longer need to boil water with firewood as a treatment method. The WASH training are used along side water quality testing to ensure that the communities are consuming safe water year round. As well as reducing CO2 emissions, this project provides safe water to rural communities and cuts cases of water-borne diseases and diarrhoea.

CO2balance in Sierra Leone

CO2balance has been exploring the options for launching projects in Sierra Leone for a long time. Following on from extensive nationwide feasibility studies, we finally decided recently to launch an initial borehole rehabilitation and maintenance programme in partnership with the NGO CODE-SL. Having lived in Sierra Leone back in 2016 and been captivated by the country’s natural beauty and generous people, I was very excited to return to meet our new partners and to explore Kono, the remote district in the East of the country where we are conducting the pilot phase of our project.

The need is immense in Sierra Leone for projects that ensure access to safe water and promote improved sanitation practices. Official figures state that 53% of the country’s rural population lack access to an improved water source, but in reality this figure is likely to be much higher. Whilst many rural communities have had access to safe water from a hand pump powered borehole at some point, a vast proportion of these have fallen into disrepair due to a lack of training or resources for them to be maintained locally. The situation is even starker regarding improved sanitation, with just 6.9% or rural communities having access to improved sanitation facilities. The impacts of these trends can be seen in the shocking figure that over 90% of rural water sources in Sierra Leone are infected with E-Coli.

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A broken-down handpump in Old Kissy Town, Kono district

My visit had 2 main purposes: to travel with CODE-SL to visit some of the communities in Kono where we will be working to repair and maintain boreholes and to attend the Local Stakeholder Consultation meeting, which introduces the project to local authorities in the target area and solicits their feedback.

The visits in Kono district were fascinating. We travelled to some of the most remote corners of the district, reaching the village of Kaadu where we looked across the Mel river into the Republic of Guinea. In Kaadu, we saw the broken down handpump which will shortly be repaired and visited the current water source, which is a murky and mossy pool in the forest about a 20 minute walk away from the village. We met Sita Sandi there, a local woman with 4 children who usually has to travel to the water source about 3 times per day. She reported that although they boil the water they collect, waterborne illnesses remain a major problem and that her son had just missed several days of school through diarrhoea. She looks forward to the completion of the borehole rehabilitation, as she hopes that it will save her the best part of 2 hours every day to have fresh water available in the village. Crucially, it will also reduce the scourge of waterborne disease which has greatly disrupted her children’s education.

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Sita Sandi collects water outside Kaadu

Having visited the communities, we conducted the local stakeholder consultation meeting in the city of Koidu, which was attended by several councillors from Kono district in addition to representatives of local NGOs and leaders of communities to be targeted in the project. The meeting was a fantastic meeting of minds of the key stakeholders with whom CODE-SL and CO2balance will be working in the coming years, and the feedback for the project was overwhelmingly positive. Stakeholders praised the concept of the project, particularly its focus on long-term maintenance of water points due to the high risk that water points can break down if they are not regularly serviced. It was also discussed that there is a great need for the project to reach beyond the initial 30 communities, with stakeholders assured that if all goes well in the initial phase of the project, we hope to significantly expand the reach in the coming years.

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The CODE-SL/CO2balance team gather before the LSC meeting

I’d like to thank our partners, CODE-SL, for their welcome and for their hard work on the feasibility phase of the project. This marks not only our first project in Sierra Leone, but our very first project in West Africa. It’s very exciting to expand into this new region and we hope that it will be a gateway to further projects in West Africa in the coming years. The first borehole rehabilitations will be conducted in the next couple of months – watch this space for more updates from Sierra Leone!

The Wide-Ranging Impacts of Clean Water: The story of Gloria

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Gloria pumping clean water a borehole maintained by CO2balance

The CO2balance team in Uganda conduct monthly visits to the boreholes to visit the communities, listen to feedback and carry out repairs. In February they met Gloria, who is the caretaker of Aminalucu borehole in Dokolo District, Northern Uganda.

Gloria is 39 and married with 5 children. She lives in Dokolo District – Lango, Northern Uganda and is a water user of Aminalucu Borehole owned by the community and under the maintenance of the CO2balance Uganda Safe Water project. She serves the role of the borehole caretaker on the water user committee and is responsible for the hygiene and use of the borehole by other water users. She lives approximately 100 meters away from the borehole and takes about 30 minutes to collect water adequate to meet their daily domestic water demand. Due to the proximity of the borehole to her household, she collects water 2-3 times a day which serves her entire household for all their basic needs.

‘Before CO2balance rehabilitated Aminalucu borehole, my children and I used to travel over 4 kilometres to a seasonal open well and would spend a lot of time collecting water, leaving other home duties unattended to. Due to the distance to the only water source we had, we would only make one trip to collect water which was not enough for our family needs’ narrates Gloria.

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Gloria and two of her children at the unsafe water source they relied upon before the CO2balance project

‘I am using the time saved to offer my labour to farm owners who will pay me as I plan on starting a poultry business with the money saved so that I can generate more income for my family needs. I am also happy with my position as a caretaker of the borehole because it has earned me respect in society and among my friends. With the time saved I am also able to attend water user committee meetings and contribute ideas towards the maintenance of our borehole’ concludes Gloria. At the moment Gloria is a maize farmer and, with the time saved by the borehole project, she’s been able to build a granary for storing the harvested maize.

She continues to say:

On two separate occasions, I was beaten by my husband for delaying at the well and not making his dinner on time. He did not understand the distance that we had to travel to collect water and later boil this water so that it is safe to use. Also on several occasions, my two daughters had to miss school because they had to accompany me to collect water from the far off open well and since it was a very unsafe trip, we had to set off at around 8am which meant that they had to skip school’

Gloria is happy that now she has enough time to engage in other domestic and productive work like cooking, cleaning, collecting firewood, washing and there is no more domestic violence in their home. Her children are able to attend school and she’s hopeful that they will perform better at school.

The Uganda Safe Water Project offers so much more than clean water. The time saved offers women the opportunity to engage in income-generating, leisure and social activities, as well as serving the community as part of the borehole committee. As mentioned by Gloria, the burden of collecting water is eased for children, who are then able to spend more time in school.

Donkeys in Eritrea

It is not only people that benefit from access to clean water in our carbon projects! In Eritrea, donkeys are a great asset to families as they are used for fetching water, collecting wood, transportation and farming.

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Mrs. Miriam Belay is a house wife who lives in Adimussa, in Zoba Maekel. Her husband is a farmer and has three children. They have livestock and the use of donkeys is of great benefit especially on the responsibilities undertaken by women.

The family own two donkeys which are used mostly for collecting water, fetching wood and transportation. She said, “Each morning my children and myself used to walk up to three hours a day for collecting water which was very tiresome and time consuming.” She added that the water was dirty and people were getting sick. The animals were also drinking from the same source. In the dry season, as the water was scarce, they had to walk further to get water.

Since the rehabilitation of the hand pumps, Miriam, her children including the donkeys had to walk only for 15 minutes. She said they have access to clean water and the donkeys could easily get water from trough. The repair of the hand pumps had a huge impact on the people and livestock particularly on donkeys. The donkeys are healthy and save their energy.

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Moreover, she said that donkeys in the rural areas have huge contributions on helping families. Mrs. Miriam said that she uses in most of her daily activities like going to the market, to the mill, collect wood and so on.

She believes that the work being done by CO2balance has made a vital difference to their lives and livestock by providing clean water and reduced the burden of walking long distance to get water and preventing them from getting waterborne diseases.

If you wish to contribute towards sustainable development in Eritrea, help fight climate change and offset your personal or company carbon footprint, please Contact Us or email enquiries@co2balance.com to hear more about the positive impacts of our projects!

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ETHIOPIA BOREHOLE REHABILITATION PROJECT: STORIES FROM THE FIELD

Meet Abebech Asrat. 

Abebech lives in Dorze Kebele, in the Chencha region of Ethiopia. She is 36, and married with four children, two of which are very young. She is a user of the Dorze Borehole which was repaired and since maintained by co2balance in 2017 in partnership with NGO Vita.

“Before the project my children and I had to spend 2-3 hours a day collecting water from the Shayne River, the only water source nearby as our local borehole was broken. To make the river water safe for my family we had to spend up to 6 hours collecting firewood, 3-4 days per week to purify the water. Villagers often had bad diarrhea and other diseases from drinking unsafe water from the Shayne River. To get better people had to spend many hours waiting in health facilities and buy medication using up a lot of their money”.

“The borehole project has really changed my life in amazing ways”.

“The Dorze Borehole was broken for three years before co2balance repaired and began maintaining it in 2017. It has now been verified as safe drinking water from water quality testing. The project has helped me and the local community greatly”.

“I am one of the WASHCO committee members of this borehole and have gained key skills from training in water point administration, water hygiene, sanitation activities and women self-help income generating activities”.

“I have been empowered through the training I have received from the Borehole Project. I collect and deposit small fees from community members partaking in the borehole scheme. We each pay 1 Ethiopian Birr for 40 litres into a community fund and save this money for if we need to repair the Borehole”.

“Before the project my whole family, in particular my children, would get sick almost every month with diseases from drinking unsafe water, sometimes near death with severe diarrhea, costing us 420 Birr per month buying medicine. From the project, we have saved 4800 Birr per year which would have been spent buying medication to save my family. Now we spend only 495 Birr per year and save a lot more money. My children are now able to attend school for longer due to having a closer water source and no further need to collect wood for water purification”.

“The project also connected me with the Kebele Omo Microfinance Institute, and I am now able to borrow money to help me create a sustainable livelihood. I was able to borrow 2000 Birr to start poultry rearing for additional income. I earn 30 Birr per pay, resulting in more than 10,000 Birr per year from selling eggs. My husband now makes traditional Clothes and gets 800 Birr per week, about 40,000 Birr per year”.

The saving account of the WASHCO, Abebech’s husband making Cloth and the chickens she is rearing.

“The Borehole project has transformed my family life, we have better living conditions than ever before. My family is healthy and strong, we now drink pure water and eat a balanced diet. We now have additional income from selling eggs and chickens. With the extra income we have moved from our small hut to a more modern house with corrugated iron sheet cover. We can also afford the school materials such as exercise books, pencils and uniforms”.

Now other women in the village are eager to participate in the WASHCO committee to empower and educate themselves, access safe, accessible water for their families and put them in the position to access microfinance to help them access income generating activities to support themselves and their families.

In 2016, the UN launched their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 measurable goals which together form a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The project contributes to many of the SDGs, in particular Goals 3, 5, 6 and 13, proactively tackling women empowerment, good health and well-being, access clean water in the poorest communities trapped in poverty and offset climate emissions.