UC Berkeley researchers urge governments to take action in western Sahel region

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UC Berkeley researchers published a commentary on Nov. 13 encouraging international governments and those in the western Sahel region of Africa to help prevent political and economic downfall in the Sahel area.

The commentary — published in Nature — discusses current threats to the Sahel region, including climate change, population growth and widespread malnutrition. Specifically, in the study, the authors urge governments to “invest in girls’ education; expand people’s access to family-planning information and services; increase agricultural production; and increase security using local police forces as well as national and international military services.”

The countries in the Sahel, located between the Sahara Desert and Sudanian Savannah, are grouped together because of similarities in climate, culture, livelihood and colonial history. According to co-author and campus doctoral candidate in the environmental science, policy and management department Lorenzo Rosa, the region is expected to see greater effects from climate change relative to other parts of the world.

“There are some regions in the world where rising temperature will be more and some regions where it’s going to be less,” Rosa said. “This is one of the regions where the temperature is going to rise way more than the average.”

The temperature is projected to increase by 3 degrees Celsius from 1950 levels, while the population is expected to more than double to by 2050, according to the commentary.

The commentary also highlights threats of famine, rapid population growth and bad agriculture practices. In Niger, for example, 42% of children suffer from stunting — their growth is impeded as a result of nutritional insufficiency — according to the article.

“A good proportion of the population is not … as physically and mentally able as they would have been if they had better nutrition as children,” said co-author Alisha Graves, who works as an academic coordinator at the UC Berkeley Bixby Center for Population, Health and Sustainability.

To improve agriculture, the commentary suggested that the Sahel invests in irrigation, as only 4% of crops in the region are currently irrigated, Rosa said. He added that improving irrigation could potentially feed 140 million more people.

The commentary emphasizes the importance of increasing female empowerment to improving the conditions in the Sahel. Fadji Maina, co-author of the commentary and postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, noted that women in the region tend to marry and have children at a younger age and, as a result, do not finish school.

Next year, the Organizing to Advance Solutions in the Sahel initiative, which Graves co-founded, will hold a conference advocating for female education and family planning from European donors.

“Most girls and women from this region have very little decision-making power over their lives,” Graves said. “Being literate and having the ability to make decisions about family size is central to women’s empowerment.”

Contact Emma Rooholfada at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.