The CSS Blog Network

Commanding the Sahara to Retreat

Man in Sandstorm, courtesy A. Masood

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 19 May 2016.

The blueprint for the Great Green Wall is nothing if not ambitious. Quite Canute-like, it would seem.

The aim is to plant a forest of trees about 15km wide, snaking some 7 775km from Senegal on the Atlantic to Djibouti on the Red Sea – crossing another nine Sahelian states on the way – to halt the southward march of the Sahara into the Sahel. This elongated forest would cover about 11 662 500 hectares.

The idea was originally conceived by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 and enthusiastically embraced by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. In 2007, the African Union Commission (AUC) took it up as the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI). Obasanjo seems to have borrowed the idea from China, yet the Chinese precedent is not entirely encouraging. Its bricks and mortar equivalent failed to keep out the Mongolian hordes from the north in the 13th century. And China’s Great Green Wall – launched in 1978 with the aim of creating a forest of trees 4 500km long – has also not stopped the southward drift of the Gobi and other deserts, despite the planting of about 70 billion trees to date.

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Central Asia: A Dangerous Thirst

Photo: UNDP in Europe and Central Asia/flickr.

This article is included in our ‘Conflict Hotspots 2014’ dossier which can be accessed here.

On the grand scale, Central Asia’s water problems have been well documented since the fall of the Soviet Union. Journalists wrote of the apparently inexorable shrinking of the Aral Sea, once one of the four largest lakes in the world; by 2007, at a tenth of its normal size, it had split up into several smaller bodies of water. An excellent view of these broad shifts can be found at Aqueduct’s Water Risk Atlas.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has warned of war if upstream countries Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan pursue power generation projects that might alter, or make open to political manipulation, the supply of water needed to irrigate Uzbekistan’s cotton crops. Public anger over a decline in basic services fuelled the unrest that led to the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010. (See our report Decay and Decline.) Bakiyev sold water to Kazakhstan during a period of electricity shortages in his own country. Across the region corruption and neglect undermine confidence in government and contribute to political discontent. » More

Heated Politics in a Frozen Land

Soon a natural part of the landscape? Oil barrels in Greenland, photo: ezioman/flickr

The oil fever has struck the Arctic sooner than expected. Several of the world’s biggest oil companies are vying for access to Greenland after a gas discovery last month raised expectations for offshore exploration around the inhospitable nation.

Greenland, the planet’s largest island with a population of just over 56,000, had been searching for the black gold for decades. In the past, however, Greenlanders have been destined to make a living from fishing and $600 million in annual subsidies from the Danish motherland (making up 55 precent of the island’s budget – or 0.75 percent of Denmark’s.) So, quite understandably, a majority of Greenlanders are now looking favorably upon the latest developments and are supporting oil exploration as a way to create jobs and wealth in a country troubled by high unemployment and social problems such as alcoholism and the world’s highest suicide rate.

Besides, the islanders are hopeful the oil might yield sufficient revenue to finally throw off the yoke of external rule and maybe even turn their icy island into an Arctic Kuwait.

These developments come soon after Greenland’s latest step towards independence. Already in 1979, Denmark granted home rule to Greenland, and in November 2008, voters in Greenland overwhelmingly approved a plan for expanding the island’s autonomy. The plan (which Denmark supported) allowed the small, mostly Inuit population to take control over the local police force, courts and coast guard and to make Greenlandic, an Inuit tongue, the official language.

It also set new rules on how to split future oil revenues between Greenland and Denmark, giving Greenland the first $13 million of annual revenues, while anything beyond that would be split equally between Greenland and Denmark. The new status quo then took effect on 21 June 2009, leaving the Danish royal government in charge only of foreign affairs, security and financial policy, while still providing the $600 million annual subsidy (or approx. $11,300 per Greenlander.) » More

Last Night a DJ Stole My Life…

Only one of Madagascar's many plagues, courtesy of William Warby/ flickr

Almost a year and a half after protests led to a coup removing elected president Marc Ravalomanana from power, the island state of Madagascar remains in political deadlock. The current rule of Andry Rajoelina, a young man born into a well-off family who rose to prominence as a disc jockey, remains paralyzed and isolated. Formal development is reeling, with hundreds of millions of much-needed aid dollars frozen by donors.

As a consequence of the illegitimate removal of an acting head of state, governments around the world declared Madagascar a pariah state. The Obama administration suspended Madagascar from the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act in December 2009, which resulted in the suspension of the country’s trade benefits. The African Union, the EU and the South African Development Committee all followed suit, quickly forcing punitive sanctions upon the country, thereby devastating the country’s already feeble industrial sector. With hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, a humanitarian crisis now seems an imminent threat. » More

Still Water Runs About 50 Cents

Lotte Icic DMZ water

Lotte Icic DMZ water / Photo: lottechilsung.co.kr

How about a taste of the icy waters of a frozen conflict?

South Korean beverage company Lotte Chilsung’s ‘Lotte Icic DMZ 2km‘ water may quench your thrist. The spring water hails from the accidental nature area that emerged in the buffer zone between North and South Korea.

The folks at the Lotte Chilsung say that the South Korean Ministry of the Enviroment will use the water as part of its campaign for the zone to become a UNESCO biosphere protection site. According to the Guardian, environmentalists say there are close to “2,900 plant species, 70 mammals and 320 types of bird flourishing in the zone.”

The article says a bottle of DMZ water is about GBP.30 ($.50)

From the company site: “‘DMZ’ is one region in the world that the ecosytem is well preserved as it is and has been out of human reach for 50 years.”

Well that’s a diplomatic way of putting it.

Hat tip to Monocle.

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