Past, present and future perspectives


The region has been in the forefront in terms of pushing for an international response to drought and desertification. The result was the adoption and ratification of the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD). Since the CCD came into effect in 1996, countries (see Box 3.16 on the example of Mauritania) and sub-regions have adopted action programmes to combat desertification. In Southern Africa, for example, where general overdependence on natural resources has been identified as the root cause of desertification, the action programme involves strengthening environmental capacities, enhancing public awareness and mobilizing their active participation in combating desertification, land degradation and the effects of drought (SADC-ELMS 1997). Figure 3.2 illustrates the main causes of desertification.

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Figure 3.2: Main causes of desertification by region

Desertification does not refer to the moving forward of existing deserts, but to the formation, expansion or intensification of degraded patches of soil and vegetation cover.

Box 3.16 Fighting sand dunes in Mauritania

In parts of Mauritania, villagers face two major environmental hazards: encroaching sand dunes which take over and destroy vegetation, causing desertification; and lack of water for household consumption and irrigation for agricultural production. Both situations render populations vulnerable by increasing poverty, and leading to food security and health problems, and they can cause civil unrest and strife.

The government has adopted policy measures to address the situation through the Mauritania-Agricultural Rehabilitation Programme, supported by external funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and these are yielding good results. Sand dunes, which are engulfing planted areas and which are threatening to engulf villages, are being brought under control in order to reduce environmental impacts and to make the population more secure.

The acute problem of water availability for household needs and agricultural irrigation is also being solved within the same project.Wells are being sunk where water is available in order to satisfy household and irrigation needs, and water is also being pumped from the Senegal River for irrigation. The implementation of the policy is helping to alleviate poverty, and to improve the food security problem and health of the population, thus increasing their coping capacities.


Countries throughout the region have adopted various initiatives and programmes to alleviate poverty. As already highlighted, poverty is a major factor in increased human vulnerability to a stressed environment. Many national, regional and international organizations are involved in poverty alleviation programmes in Africa. For example, the African Development Bank (ADB) has developed a five-year programme which makes poverty alleviation and lasting development in Africa priority issues. The ADB's objective is to reduce poverty by half by 2015. According to ADB statistics, 40-45 per cent of the region's population live in absolute poverty, and 30 per cent are classified as extremely poor, including 70 per cent of women. The ADB will focus action on several major areas:

Recently, African environment ministers issued a statement, following an October 2001 African Preparatory Conference for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. In the statement, poverty eradication was identified as a priority area for action (see Box 3.17).

Box 3.17 Eradication of poverty

Although Africa is an indispensable resource base which has been serving humanity for many centuries, poverty in Africa stands in stark contrast to the prosperity of the developed world. The process of globalization has further marginalized Africa, and this has contributed to the increasing incidence of poverty in the region. It is in this regard that the New African Initiative calls for the reversal of this abnormal situation by changing the relationship which underpins it. Achieving the poverty reduction goals of the Millennium Declaration is a joint responsibility of the North and South. It requires the adoption of a comprehensive approach which addresses the key priority areas, including:

  • the removal of obstacles which prevent access to exports from developing countries to the markets of developed countries;
  • debt reduction/cancellation;
  • a review of the conditionalities of the IMF and the WB;
  • promoting industrial growth, especially through small- and medium-sized enterprises;
  • ensuring access to sources of energy at affordable prices, particularly in rural areas;
  • promoting micro-finance;
  • enhancing access to basic health services;
  • sustainable rural development;
  • agricultural development and food security;
  • greater access to safe water and sanitation;
  • reducing the vulnerability of our people to natural disasters and environmental risks; and
  • access to and improved standards of education at all levels. (AMCEN 2001)