Imagine it’s 40 degrees, the sun is burning your skin, a diesel engine is groaning in the background, on the verge of exhaustion. Despite the scorching heat, your thoughts circle around questions about the future. The questions are pressing, they won’t let you go: when can I expect the next rain? How long will I be safe? And how can I create a better future for myself?
Sahel – from Atlantic Coast to Red Sea
The Sahel region, or the Sahel (Arabic ساحل “coast” or “shore of the desert”), describes the transition zone between the Sahara in the north and the wet savannah in the south. A large part od the Sahel is formed by the states of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
The Sahel is full of history, culture, dance, music and above all, full of people who love, laugh and celebrate. However, the inhabitants of the Sahel also have to cope with difficult circumstances and political tensions.
Due to the geographic location of the Sahel, special climatic conditions prevail. The characteristic long periods of drought and infrequent heavy rainfalls, which cannot be absorbed by the dry and hard soil, make agriculture difficult. Due to non-existent or unreliable, expensive water pumps, rain-fed agriculture is often the only option. This is a form of agriculture in which the water for the crops is provided by the rainfall and no additional artificial irrigation is used. As a result, farmers are forced to move every 2 years to avoid overuse of the soil. This is usually not possible for financial reasons and lack of food, so after a few years of use the field becomes ‘dead’. Thus, the productive and is not only subjected to severe circumstances, but also becomes less and less. In addition, according to FAO, about 40 percent of fruit and vegetable harvests spoil due to lack of refrigeration possibilities. As the climate crisis continues, so does desertification. Desertification describes the spread of the desert, which affects many people in the Sahel. In the course of this, an area of land roughly the size of Baden-Württemberg is lost every year.
For the steadily growing population – having many children is a kind of old-age provision – this not only causes a poverty problem, but also a great shortage of food. As a result of the existence-threatening circumstances and the hopeless future, some people see themselves forced to earn their living through criminal activities, such as illegal cigarette, drug and human trafficking. Various terrorist organizations also operate in the Sahel, taking advantage of the unstable government situation and ethnic tensions. Thus, assistance from non-governmental organizations is often blocked or even prevented.
Many people in the Sahel have a strong desire for change, reconstruction and finding solutions to problems and causes in their homeland, but the countries’ weak infrastructure often does not allow this. Therefore, the only option for many people is to leave their own homeland. In the last two years, the number of internally displaced persons alone has increased 4-fold, more than ever before. IDPs are refugees within their own country, fleeing specific regions or counties. Neighboring countries often face similar challenges as their own, so many hope to end up in Europe. Young people in particular take on the life-threatening journey because they see so little future for themselves in their own homeland. But according to the UN, at least twice as many people die on the way to the Mediterranean alone as in the Mediterranean itself. On the way, many people have to cross the desert or areas where war is raging. There they are often at the mercy of human traffickers, torture and imprisonment. But even if refugees manage to make their way through the desert and the Mediterranean, this does not mean that they will be allowed to stay in Europe in the long term or that they will be accepted at all.
The large movement of refugees from the Sahel is by no means a new development. For decades, hundreds of thousands have been fleeing out of fear, desperation and especially the lack of prospects in their own country. The only long-term solution: a fundamental improvement in living conditions on the ground.
New prospects for change
In order to provide opportunities for better living conditions in the future, governments must provide basic resources and features (e.g., education, infrastructure) that ensure at least adequate supplies of food, for the population.
One resource in the Sahel that has been almost untapped to date is sunlight, which can be converted into electricity through solar panels. Access to sustainably produced electricity forms the basis for sustainable development in the countries of the Sahel. Even small amounts of energy have a strong positive impact on the quality of life of the people. By increasing electricity consumption, productivity is increased, creating more jobs and raising incomes.
People would also have the opportunity to use the internet through access to electricity, which can provide better education for young people in the Sahel, helping them to become more empowered. Better education will further support the countries’ economic growth.
Farmers also benefit from access to solar power, enabling them to run water pumps to irrigate their fields regularly, or to preserve food for longer through solar-powered refrigeration options. They would no longer be dependent on rainfall or aging diesel generators, which are costly to maintain and unreliable. In addition, diesel is expensive, so only a minority of people can afford to run an engine, and if they do, it’s only for a few hours a day. The use of solar power could accordingly provide more stable sources of food without fear of the next crop failure or the rapid perishability thereof.
Thus, access to electricity would not only be part of the solution to food shortages in the Sahel, but would also give young people a perspective. In addition, better training of skilled workers would positively impact the economy. By solving these basic problems that threaten the existence of the Sahel, conflicts within the Sahel would be equalized, thereby providing people with security in their own countries, as well as preparing the ground for new, more stable governments.
And this is exactly where we as Africa GreenTec would like to tie in with the solution approach of solar energy. We are trying to go a step in the right direction by offering people in the Sahel the possibility to use sustainable renewable energy. In addition, villages gain the opportunity to use solar-powered cooling systems for food, and we also support farmers by providing water purification and irrigation systems.
With our Solartainers, not only private households have the possibility to use electricity, but also companies, e.g. that of Modibo Traore (you can read his ImpactStory in our ImpactBlog) as well as social institutions, such as schools or hospitals. In this context, we try to create jobs especially locally in order to train skilled workers and further develop infrastructures. With the focus on this productive power, Africa GreenTec’s approach differs decisively from pico-solar systems, which merelyoffer private households the possibility to use chargers or LED lamps.
Currently, we are supporting over 20 villages in Mali and Niger (soon also in Senegal, Chad, and Madagascar) with solar power and are working daily to offer more people in other countries the opportunity for sustainable energy. In the villages we already work with, we have found that our work and products are generally well received and have a positive impact on the lives of the villagers, such as Diessira Diallo (you can also read her ImpactStory on our ImpactBlog).
The people on the ground: customers instead of recipients of donations
It is essential for us to meet the people on site at eye level, therefore we do not give away or donate our services. Prices and wages are adapted to the respective locations, so that an ImpactSite is as self-supporting as possible and can be maintained.
The big goal is to prepare new chances for people, companies and farmers and especially to create life perspectives for the next generations. It is important to us not to start short-lived projects in the respective villages, but to strengthen or build long-term structures.
This is how we try to give young people in particular hope for their own future and the opportunity to build a life in their homeland.
A stable energy supply for the inhabitants of the Sahel means that many people are no longer dependent on the next rainfall, old diesel engines cobbled together or the time of day. With these assurances, there is a chance that the conflicts in the countries will be equalized and that people will feel safe again in their homeland instead of taking the risk of migrating.
Solar energy might not solve all problems, but it gives people in the Sahel an opportunity that they would otherwise be denied. An opportunity that is commonplace for us: stability and future prospects in their own homeland – which means they no longer have to flee from it and can build a life locally.
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