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)

 

UNEP 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

Eritrea Cookstove Monitoring 2019

CO2balance and project partner Vita, an Irish NGO, are in the fourth year of conducting monitoring for two cookstove projects in northern Eritrea.

The region in which the stoves are based is the Anseba region, named after the Anseba river which passes through the region. Majority of the region is at high altitude with varying weather conditions compared to other regions in Eritrea. Once heavily forested, now forest cover for the whole of Eritrea is less than 0.1%.

This makes it particularly difficult for the population who rely mainly on sourcing wood fuel for cooking. The improved cookstove projects allow people to continue to cook traditional meals for their families, using less fuel. This saves time and effort in collecting wood fuel. In addition, the stoves are fitted with chimneys which direct smoke from open fires out of the kitchen, improving the health of women and children.

Since new cookstove monitoring requirements were introduced in July 2018, CO2balance is required to take pictures of all the improved stoves monitored known locally as the Adhanet stove. The pictures show how women have personalised their stoves which are permanently fitted in their kitchens. The three outlets on the stoves are used for cooking injera, bread and soup respectively.

These projects positively contribute to four SDG impacts as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Please Contact Us or email enquiries@co2balance.com to hear more about the positive impacts of our Eritrea projects!

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Eritreans have a new name for cookstoves: the ‘Saviour stove’

Desey Tsehaye and her grandson with their brand new ‘Saviour’ cookstove, complete with smoke funnel.

Desey is a 47-year-old grandmother who lives out in the Eritrean desert, south of the capital city Asmara. It is a forbidding landscape of rock and mountain, which has been almost completely deforested.

Desey and her family were forced to buy firewood everyday, simply to cook and feed herself and her family, spending a lot of money in the process. The traditional stove also produced a lot of smoke, causing eye problems and headaches from the fumes.

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Local women helping to construct the stoves.

Then an improved cook stove was installed in her house through Vita and CO2balance’s fuel efficient cook stove project. The stove used much less firewood, saving the women and girls time, money and drudgery collecting firewood.

As such, they have taken to calling it the ‘Saviour stove’ (Adhenet in the Tigrinya local language).

Despite this success however, when Desey was invited to participate in the project she was initially reluctant: When I was invited to have a stove my mother had just died and I told Vita that I was grieving and not in the frame of mind to have this new kind of stove.”

But thankfully she came round: “They offered to construct it for me. Once it was built I really blessed them. Now I see that this stove is a precious item that everyone should have. I’m telling all my friends and neighbours about the benefits of it of this stove.”

Now she has no need to need to buy firewood – twigs and leaves are enough fuel for her improved stove. Her family has saved money, which they spend on a buying a wider variety of food for their family and making improvements to their home. Their former smoke problems are also a thing of the past, as the improved cook stove uses a handy chimney so there is no smoke indoors.

 

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Local women enjoying their training in stove maintenance.

CO2balance and Vita worked closely with the local women’s association in the village to engage women in the project and train them in stove maintenance.

This has proved very successful and helped build grassroots support and interest in the Saviour stoves, ensuring that they remain in good condition and reap the rewards for many years to come.

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.

Eritrea Donkey 4 2019

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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Issuances in Eritrea!

In the last month, borehole projects in the country of Eritrea have credited over 133,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent saved! The equivalent in weight is 88 fully grown Blue Wales, the largest mammal on Earth, or 1683 heavily laden Boeing 737’s!

The projects in the areas of Zoba Maekel and Zoba Debub, Eritrea generate emissions reductions by displacing the need to boil water for purification. This is the most common method people use to purify contaminated water from unsafe sources such as open wells, rivers and streams. The main cost people incur to boil water is time, wood is freely collected from surrounding forests and farm fields causing local deforestation.

Within the household traditional 3-stone stoves, used for boiling water, pollute the air with smoke which contributes to a range of illnesses and acute health impacts. Traditionally, women are the main cooks who tend to these stoves multiple times a day. They are also the primary child carers meaning the adverse effects of smoke disproportionately fall on women and children.

Studies have linked early childhood acute lower-respiratory infections such as asthma and pneumonia to child exposure to smoke. For adults, risks of lung cancer, cataracts, bronchitis and more have been associated with prolonged smoke exposure.

With clean water, project participants have increased health benefits from a reduction in stomach and smoke related illnesses. They spend less time collecting water and boiling is eradicated. There is less deforestation in the local area and furthermore, the projects contribute towards the following SDG’s:

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To date, these projects combined have produced over 436,994,145 litres of clean water in Eritrea. 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!

 

Sustainable communities in Eritrea

Both the cook stove and water projects continue to move forward in Eritrea as last month we initiated our stakeholder consultation for a new community safe water programme in Zoba Anseba. The meeting, held in the local hall, was well attended by representatives from all the surrounding villages and the feedback received truly showed that the importance of water resources is highly valued. The project will identify communities that don’t currently have access to improved water sources because of broken boreholes and rehabilitate them to good working order.

Though the meeting was led by our project partners to give details of the project and take feedback, we were pleased to see active discussion between village members about how to best preserve the pumps once they have been fixed. The importance of borehole maintenance and awareness of water resource management were both raised and will be part of project over its lifetime.

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The success of the cook stove project in Zoba Anseba has continued and recently completed its second verification under Gold Standard. The project funded the training and construction of more than 3,600 ‘Adhanet’ stoves in the district. Hugely popular in the region, the stoves have shown reductions in wood use of as much as 70% and over; a huge improvement making a significant impact on rural families.

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By embedding training on stove construction and borehole maintenance in to the programme, it strengthens the sustainability of the projects and furthers the sustainable livelihoods and sustainable communities across Eritrea.

 

Progress in Eritrea

Since the beginning of our work in Eritrea, working together with our project partner we have moved quickly to develop a number of fantastic community-led projects across the country.

Early this year, the team completed their work guiding local communities in building sustainable improved cook stoves. More than 3600 stoves have been constructed in less than two years – a fantastic achievement – and the knowledge and experience that has been passed on is invaluable.

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Late last year work began on borehole projects based in Zoba Debub, the southern region in Eritrea. There are plans to rehabilitate broken down boreholes in more than 100 villages with many already fixed, and work together with the communities to maintain the boreholes and ensure access to clean, safe water for many years to come.

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Both of these projects have huge impacts on the prosperity of local communities as their health improves and they reduce the money spent and time collecting both firewood and water. We will continue with our work this year to ensure as many people as possible benefit.