N Munal Meitei
The Sahara desert has been expanding southwards for decades through the region like Sahel. Heavy grazing, deforestation, and numerous droughts have degraded the once lush Sahel, making it easy pickings for the Sahara’s expansion. In order to stave off an ecological disaster across the continent, 20 different African countries have embarked on an ambitious tree-planting program called the ‘Great Green Wall’. A 16-km thick wall of greenery aims to stretch across 8,000 km of terrain at the southern edge of the Sahara desert, arresting the desert’s spread running from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East which came into effect since 2007. The green walls have finally given humanity some relaxation.
The Great Green Wall is a symbol of hope with the ambition to restore 100 million ha of currently degraded land; sequester 250 million tons of carbon and create 10 million green jobs with an investment of about eight billion dollars by 2030 in the face of one of the biggest challenges of our time – desertification. This game-changing initiative can transform millions of degraded landscapes into rich forest and once complete, the Green Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet as a natural wonder of the world stretching across the entire width of the African continent.
The project is a response to the combined effect of natural resources promoting water harvesting techniques, greenery protection and improving the indigenous land in the rural areas. This is also a multi-sectoral approach including the tree planting initiative and the development tools to tackle the social, economic and environmental impacts of land degradation and desertification. It seeks the communities to mitigate and adapt the climate change as well as improve the food security. The population of the continent is expected to double by 2039, emphasizing the importance of maintaining food production and environmental protection in the area.
As of March 2019, 15 pc of the wall is completed with 11 million trees planted. Nigeria has restored 4.9 million ha, Ethiopia has reclaimed 15 million ha, Chad with 1.1 million trees and Senegal with 12 million trees.
With "The Great Green Wall of India" the Centre is mulling an ambitious plan to create a 1600 km long and 5 km wide green belt from Porbandar in Gujarat to Panipat of Delhi-Haryana border. The overarching objective of India’s Great Green Wall will be to address the rising rates of land degradation and the eastward expansion of the Thar desert accompanying the fight for climate change and the global warming.
This green wall project will help in restoring degraded land through afforestation along the Aravali hill range. It will also act as a barrier to dust coming from the deserts in western India and Pakistan.
The Aravali has been identified as one of the key degraded zones to be taken up for greening under India’s target to restore 26 million hectares of its land. A 2016 report from ISRO had also indicated that Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan had already degraded over 50% of their land.
The Aravallis, is the oldest mountain fold on Earth. Geological studies show its age as three billion years. It spans over 800 km from Gujarat to Delhi through Rajasthan and Haryana. The highest peak in the Aravalli Range is Guru Peak on Mount Abu.
The Aravallis have an impact upon the climate of northwest India and beyond. During monsoons, the mountain range gently guides the monsoon clouds eastwards towards Shimla and Nainital, thus helping nurture the sub-Himalayan Rivers and feeding the north Indian plains. In the winter months, it protects the fertile alluvial river valleys of the Indus and Gangetic plain from the assault of cold westerly winds from Central Asia.
The Aravalli range, which separates western India’s Thar desert from the relatively green plains to its east, has lost so much green cover that it is losing its ability to act as a natural barrier against the heat and dust that blows in from the west. The Thar desert’s expansion could threaten the “granary of India"—the fertile belts of Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and the Malwa region. The unauthorized mining has also led to some of the hills vanishing in the region.
With this Great Green Wall project, 135 crore new native trees will be planted over 10 years to rehabilitate the forest cover in this area and it will act as a buffer against pollution, 51% of which is caused by the industrial pollution, 27% by vehicles, 8% by crop burning from the adjoining States like Punjab and Haryana and 5% by Diwali fireworks.
In COP-14 of UNCCD held in India, a similar initiative called Peace Forest Initiative (PFI) to develop forests in conflict areas including the demilitarized zone was announced. This is another big initiative to safeguard the climate and environment of the planet.
The large scale illegal felling of trees in the hill areas of Manipur for jhum cultivation, poppy plantation and many other anthropogenic reasons are just spreading like a disease in the State. In a report published by the India State of Forest-2021, Manipur has lost 249 sq.km. of forests during 2019-2020 which is lesser than the 499.10 sq.km. lost during 2017-2018. The State also lost 1526 sq.km of Bamboo Forests in the last two years.
Thus, every village in the State should have a project like the Green Great Wall in their village peripheries. This will not only give the emotional attachments but will meet the need of village that a forest can bestow such as fuel, fodder, fruits, flowers, resins and gum, agricultural equipment, building materials and medicinal products.
Population explosion, poor communication and sick economy are the main factors underlying the deforestation in the State. The natural resources including wildlife are often over exploited, without leaving sufficient time to regenerate, while the land degradation is exacerbated by many of the anthropogenic factors. Most people want to become rich with minimum labour but within shortest period. Thus, the large scale poppy plantations etc. are coming up. The effect of the global climate change has also invaded our State.
To tackle these issues; economy, agriculture, livestock farming and livelihood of our rural people are to be developed according to their traditions including tree plantation and agro-forestry with native species having fruits and flowers. The other means for water retention ponds, rain water harvesting, agricultural production, marketing and other income-generating activities as well as the basic social infrastructures should also be invariably developed.
Therefore, we need to initiate the Great Green Wall projects in Manipur with new innovative ideas and political determinations to protect our degraded environment for the future generation and otherwise tomorrow may be too late for us.
The writer is an environmentalist and can be reached at [email protected]