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Lake Chad used to be one of the biggest lakes in the world, but its volume has been reduced to a tenth of what it was in the 1960s. The way this lake has dried up has become a symbol of climate change in action. It’s true that the lake’s water level has always changed, but this hasn’t diminished the major changes to the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the lake’s shoreline. Yet, as demonstrated by a French-Nigerian team including the IRD( 1), lake dwellers have made the best of these changes to their environment. Formerly fishermen or herdsmen, they have become farmers, often growing for export. The land that was part of the lake has made it possible for them to develop highly productive crops such as corn, rice and cowpea. In the valley of the Komadugu Yobe River in Niger, they have even commenced the intensive farming of peppers, which is highly lucrative although risky.
Rewatering the lake, as proposed by the Ubangi( 5) international project, would cause upheaval once again to the farming system, particularly if the yearly rise and fall in lake water levels were to cease.
Since the early 2000s the Sahara has come back strongly into the international political and media arena. The whole region is going through a period of turbulence stemming from its growing economic and strategic importance and a highly confused geopolitical environment. This situation stems from the “Arab spring” events, the fall of Colonel Gaddafi and the installation of Al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali.
A special issue of the journal Hérodote has published review articles on these upheavals by IRD geographers and economists and their and their research partners. Beyond the geopolitical and security aspects, they describe the economic changes, the development of the trans-Saharan migrations and the race for raw materials pursued by the world’s great powers. All these powers seek the underground wealth the region conceals (such as oil, uranium, iron). Simultaneously coveted and feared, the Sahara never ceases to arouse concern in the international community.
In the coming decades, the West African countries could benefit from a demographic window of opportunity to reduce their poverty. The arrival of 160 million young people on the labour market between 2010 and 2030 could accelerate economic growth. These countries could take advantage of this “demographic dividend”, which the emerging countries have been doing for 40 years. On condition that they lower their fertility rates, are still the highest in the world, with an average of five children per woman. That would enable them to reduce the number of economically non-active people being supported for each active individual..
An IRD researcher asserts this in a review published recently by the Agence française de développement (AFD), concerning a far-reaching survey( 1) conducted in 12 West African countries( 2): family planning and promotion of contraception are some of the main keys to sustainable economic growth. Yet to arrive at such a situation, these countries must assign 3 to 5 times the means currently given over to such a policy. Will they be able to manage this population turning point successfully?
The population of Sub-Saharan Africa is continuing to grow at twice the rate recorded in Latin America and Asia. This exceptional population growth is a major handicap for efforts to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Objectives (MDO) in most of the countries lying South of the Sahara. With ...