Nigeria’s Front Against Desertification

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Recently, the international community marked World Environment Day. The United Nations, at its Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, set aside June 5 every year for raising awareness on environmental matters. The theme of this year’s event, “Land Restoration, Desertification and Drought Resilience,” demands that humanity confront this crisis head-on or risk permanent disfigurement of the only world it knows.

The facts presented by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification are nothing short of alarming – up to 40 per cent of the world’s land is degraded, threatening half of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and half of the human population.

Even more distressing, in the opinion of this newspaper, is the number and duration of droughts which have surged by 29 per cent since 2000, with projections that they could afflict over 75 per cent of the world’s population by 2050 without urgent action. These statistics bare the existential peril that desertification poses to humanity’s future on Earth.

It is instructive to note that land degradation, persistent droughts, and the encroachment of deserts into hitherto fertile areas imperil billions of food and water security. These factors undermine ecological stability, worsen climate change, and lay the seeds for mass migration as swathes of territory become uninhabitable. If left unchecked, accelerating desertification can potentially unravel human civilisation’s social, economic, and political fabric.

Tragically, in our view, the consequences of this ecological calamity are not being felt equally across the globe. The regions most vulnerable to desertification tend to be in the developing world – places that have contributed the least to catalysing climate change yet bear the increasingly severe brunt of its impacts.

In Nigeria alone, it is estimated that between 50-75 percent of land across the 10 northern states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara, which encompass 27 million people, has been ravaged by desertification, with entire villages and roads swallowed up by encroaching sand dunes.

The injustice of wealthy nations escaping the worst immediate effects while endangering the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable populations should appall humanity’s conscience.

Beyond the moral imperative to act, desertification’s perils will eventually reach every nation’s doorstep through food insecurity, conflicts over dwindling resources, and destabilising migration waves. The costs of inaction vastly outweigh those of mounting an aggressive, globally coordinated offensive to combat land degradation and bolster resilience against droughts.

While this disaster looms, there are glimmers of hope that leaders are beginning to realise the urgency of this existential challenge. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s call for “earnest effort and action by citizens, stakeholders, institutions, and development partners” to safeguard the environment and transition to a “prosperous and clean economic future for all” is timely and inspiring.

So far, the federal government has demonstrated a commendable commitment to this cause by establishing the Presidential Committee on Climate Action and Green Economic Solutions to spearhead Nigeria’s climate mitigation, adaptation, and green economy initiatives.
Moreover, the approval of Nigeria’s first Green Industrial Zone, Evergreen City, poised to become Africa’s leading manufacturing hub for renewable energy technologies, green solutions, and climate-adaptation technologies, is a bold and visionary step that could catalyse a paradigm shift in the approach to development.

However, as environmental experts have rightly pointed out, policies and laws alone are not enough; intentional and unwavering actions must back them. The government’s commitment to planting 25 million trees by 2030 is laudable. Still, it must be accompanied by a broader, multi-pronged strategy encompassing water conservation, sustainable land management practices, and a resolute stance against the indiscriminate felling of trees.

Equally crucial is transparency and accountability in environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for development projects. Too often, these assessments have been shrouded in secrecy, reduced to mere academic exercises devoid of real-world consequences. This cannot continue.
In our opinion, EIAs must be rigorous and independent, and their findings must be made public. This would empower citizens to hold decision-makers accountable for the environmental impact of their actions.

Furthermore, as we strive to restore degraded lands and build resilience against drought, we must embrace Indigenous knowledge and favour planting native species already adapted to local ecosystems. This enhances the chances of success and preserves the nation’s rich biodiversity and cultural heritage.
Ultimately, the battle against desertification, land degradation, and drought transcends borders, ideologies, and generations. It is a fight for the very survival of our species and countless others that share this fragile planet. We must approach it with utmost urgency, resolve, and a spirit of global solidarity.

We must marshal the collective will and resources to curb and reverse this scourge. Restoring the land is an ethical imperative and an existential necessity. Our fragile home deserves nothing less than a concerted effort and devotion.

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