The Sahel – Water Scarcity
The Sahel Region – The Sahel is a strip of semi-arid land between the Sahara in the north and the tropical rainforests to the south. The Sahel has an area of 5.4 million km2 and has a population of 50,000,000 people.
Water Stress – When an area uses more water than it has. An area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1700 m3 per person
Desertification – the spread of desert. The land dries out and becomes a desert because of various activities including climatic change, overpopulation and other human activities.
Countries in the Sahel Region: Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Chad, Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and South Sudan.
Physical Reasons for Water Scarcity
Rainfall in the Sahel is highly variable and over the past 12,000 years decade-long droughts have occurred regularly. Since 1968, the Sahel region has been affected by a long period of drought; rain only falls in 1 or 2 months of the year and both the total amount of rainfall (250-450mm) and the length of the season change massively on a year by year basis.
One of the main theories for the drought is that it was caused by the south Atlantic and the Indian Ocean warming around 1900. This reduced the temperature difference between land and sea, which caused the subsequent monsoons to weaken and thunderstorms to stay south of the Sahel. This led to a knock-on effect because less rain, means there is less vegetation and the ground becomes lighter therefore more sunlight is reflected by the ground, the temperature difference is further reduced.
The Niger River drains 2 million km2 which is a third of the Sahel, and provides the region with much needed water and fertility. However despite this, the Sahel’s most fertile land is quickly drying out due to drought, deforestation and intensive agriculture. The Niger is a vital lifeline for over 110 million people, who rely on its annual floods to farm crops and livestock, but growing human exploitation and an increasingly erratic climate are putting the future of the river as a sustainable resource under threat. Research between 1970 and 2000 has shown that the water flow along the Niger was 25% below average in each decade, evidence of the effect the drought is having on water supplies in the region.
Economic reasons for water scarcity
The Sahel region suffers from severe economic water scarcity, mainly due to the fact that the majority of the countries which are part of the Sahel are poor, developing countries. The demand for water is increasing in the region, as a result of population, industrial, and agricultural growth/expansion and yet the population does not have the financial capacity to access all of the available water resources, which means that it becomes harder for a country run properly while continuing to develop. Motor pumps could expand the amount of irrigated agricultural land during the dry season to 30 million hectares, which is 4 times the current area, but this is impossible without the money to build and install the pumps.