HOME: How its changed and why restoration matters especially for Africa.
Updated: Jul 22, 2019
This Blue Dot right here viewed from the moon fifty years ago - is HOME.
The Earthrise picture was spectacular. In fact, the astronauts on the Apollo coined the moment: Exploring the Moon, Discovering Earth. That moment of looking at home and realizing how precious it was. And still is.
For me as a black woman and a scientist – this moment is also emotional. For anyone who has watched the movie Hidden Figures (based on True events), they should be aware that a group of black African American women in a basement at NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in the United States of America undertook some complex mathematical calculations. They were referred to as human computers, tucked away in the basement of NASA almost as clerical staff, and their work contributed to the Apollo Missions greatly. As such women have equally been central to contributing to the science that matters to how we exist on this planet: Earth.
In these last fifty years, earth has not been the same. Ravaged by disasters, mostly as a result of anthropogenic factors including climate change, with pretty much every corner of the planet being affected and impacted in one way or another.
While the impacts of climate change have been felt everywhere, nowhere have they been more intense and devastating as on my birth continent - AFRICA.
Not so long ago in March 2019 two cyclones hit the southern African coast in quick succession, killing over 2,000 people, mostly women and children and affecting about 2 million people across three countries. The “eyes” of these storms could be seen from space of course. I can just about imagine what anyone viewing it from that far from “home” imagined what was going on – noting that something bad was brewing!!
What was particularly evident around the landscapes in the affected countries (Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe) were the levels of land degradation to the extent that they left communities terribly vulnerable.
I must also mention another part of Africa that’s incredibly vulnerable and has been degraded terribly over the years is the Sahel. This fragile belt of land just below the Sahara Desert crisscrossing 10 countries, has been affected and its peoples afflicted by the impacts of climate change and landscape degradation. The Niger River that traverses 5 countries, has supported communities for millennia as its only source of freshwater in this fragile space. Many years ago while visiting Mali, I was in awe seeing the Niger Inner Delta and the thousands of people going about their business in the sweltering heat of the Sahel and the cooling effect of the Niger River. This is the land of historical and cultural wonder.
The home of the ancient city of Timbuktu, Kingdom of Segou and the incredibly beautiful traditional fabric - Bogolan (often referred to as mud cloth).
This belt of land has an estimated 20 million hectares of degraded land. Most of the impacts as a result of this degradation and ultimately the effects on a mainly young population, have resulted in many, mostly young men and women, risking their lives trying to migrate to Europe first by crossing the precarious desert and trying to go across the Mediterranean Sea.
However, over 30 years ago, the visionary and late president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara had the idea of stopping the advancement of the Sahara across this fragile belt. In his mind, a Great Green Wall of trees planted by the local communities could help not only manage the degradation but also halt the advancement of the sand. However, this didn’t quite take off until much later in 2007 when the African Union working in collaboration with the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD) and many other partners came together and this initiative has finally started.
As per Thomas Sankara's vision, people were at the center of this restoration agenda and they still are to this day. The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) is aligned to the last 10 years of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that offer a clear vision for people and the planet.
So, imagine this: once this Great Green Wall of a mosaic landscape of trees and other sustainable landuse activities, is successfully in place in the coming years, this strip of green will be able to be seen from space! Imagine that. And perhaps another 30 plus years from now, people will be able to comment on another space mission that sends us a picture of earth and say: we did it!!! Home is restored and so are we.
Check out link to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) here.
Check out link to the Sustainable Development Goals here.