By Awad Abdulsebur
The survival of human beings is entirely reliant on forests. There will be no life without forest. Each and everything we need for our survival comes from forests. Forests create healthy water watersheds which are necessary to maintain the water availability of rivers, lakes, and other water streams. Forests have enormous contributions to maintain the moisture of human environment, soil fertility, and what have you. Life on this planet is impossible without trees.
However, human civilizations have caused enormous destruction of forest cover all over the world. And this has resulted in hostile environment for humanity.
Developing countries like Ethiopia are the most affected parts of the world in this regard. Despite aggressive efforts of tree plantation since recent years, Ethiopia’s forest cover dwindled from larger afforestation the country had enjoyed many decades back.
Rapid population growth, expansion of farm lands and the need for more pasture areas are considered to be the major causes of deforestation in Ethiopia among others things. According to UN report issued recently, the forest coverage in Ethiopia decreased drastically over the past several decades. In the last 50 years alone, the country has lost 98 percent of its forested areas.
This has led the nation to become vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change, dragging it to a recurrent drought as the magnitude of rainfall it receives every year drastically dwindles with exacerbated land degradation, soil erosion, and desertification due to the continued deforestation. This has been the main cause of the food insecurity in the country that is forcing its people to severe poverty and migration.
The government of Ethiopia has been making numerous efforts to improve the agricultural sector by employing a number of policies, projects and development programs over the past several years. Though agricultural productivity has been showing little progress, the nation has not yet able to ensure food security and diversify its export trade due to predicaments associated with the agriculture sector. Continued deforestation and land degradation have caused depletion of natural resources, highly affecting agricultural output and productivity. As a result, millions of Ethiopians are affected by the poor performance of the agriculture sector as a consequence of hostile environment. Climate change is one of the key factors for the recurrent food insecurity and drought in the country. Hence, restoration of forests is the most important mechanism to avert such crisis and help the people live a better life.
Green Legacy Initiative
The Green Legacy Campaign, initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2019 aims at combating the several decades long challenges—i.e. food insecurity, natural disasters such as drought and flooding. The initiative aims at preventing environmental degradation across the country and nurturing the culture of plant seedlings among the whole society. Right from the beginning, the target was to plant 20 billion seedlings over four years. It’s been three years now since the country launched the initiative. During the first year of the initiative, some 4 billion seedlings were planted including the infamous record-breaking 353 million seedlings in one day, while in 2020, 5 billion seedlings were planted and more than 6 billion in 2021. In total, the nation has so far managed to plant more than 18 billion tree seedlings across the country over the past three rounds of the green legacy initiative. This year the Green Legacy Initiative marks the end of the implementation period of the initiative. For Green Legacy Campaign 2022, more than 6 billion seedlings are planned to be planted this rainy season surpassing the 20 billion targets in four years.
The initiative being undertaken by the Government of Ethiopia has so far been yielding remarkable results in various aspects. The national forest coverage that had stood at 4 percent some years ago, has now reached close to 18 percent. The nation has also been contributing its part by preventing the release of some 92 .6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the environment.
Ethiopia has also been trying to expand the initiative to the whole of Africa particularly in to its neighbors. All aspects of life in Africa including Ethiopia are intrinsically connected with trees and forests. Hence, the region has no other choice than tackling the consequences of climate change which resulted in environmental degradation. And this requires a great deal of cooperation. In this regard, the government of Ethiopia is engaged in expanding its national green legacy campaign to neighboring countries and beyond for this noble cause of tree planting needs to be scaled up for the common destiny of Africans. In order to effectively combat environmental challenges facing Africa, rallying behind tree plantation is imperative. All countries in the region face similar climate change challenges, requiring similar solutions to mitigate them where collaboration is very important. That is the reason why Ethiopia has been trying all its best to collaborate with the Easter African countries in particular and with the whole region in general. Over the past two years, Ethiopia has distributed more than 1 billion tree seedlings to its neighbors.
As Abay River (the Blue Nile) originates from Lake Tana, Ethiopia, Ethiopia is discharging its responsibilities by planting trees throughout the country. Abay River travels more than 1,000 kms before it converges with the White Nile and ends in the Mediterranean Sea. Researches indicate that the Nile Basin’s water and related environmental resources provide a wide range benefits to about 232 million people estimated to live in the river basin areas.
As Abay has been flowing across its course from time immemorial, trees and vegetation of the river banks have been washed. And this calls for urgent actions for rehabilitating the river basin areas particular and across the high lands of Ethiopia in general. Unless mitigation mechanism is in place by all Nile River riparian states, the basin resources are depleted, threatening the lives of the population which is projected to increase to 312 million by 2025.
The impact of climate change in Ethiopia has an intrinsic relationship with the wellbeing of this longest river. The impact that might occur in Ethiopia doesn’t remain confined to Ethiopia alone; it will spread into down basin states. Any climate change impact will stretch up to the Nile River riparian countries, notably Egypt and Sudan.
As indicated in the recent Nile Story briefing note, the watershed degradation that originates from the Ethiopian highlands costs the downstream countries annually 670 million USD. If the countries remain reluctant to take the necessary measures in order to tackle the challenges, this cost is expected to climb to about 4.5 billion USD over the next 25 years.
Bodies of researches on the resources of Nile Basin also indicate that significant portion of the watershed located in the Ethiopian highlands is severely degraded due to poverty-driven overexploitation of natural resources. Without restoration of the degraded watersheds, future water resources infrastructure developments in Egypt, Ethiopia, or Sudan will have limited lifespan and economic benefits.
The research has also established that between 157 million and 207 million tons of sediment are transported annually by the river from the Ethiopian highlands. Sedimentation impacts Sudan and Egypt through a reduction in hydropower performance and an increase in hydropower infrastructure maintenance costs. In addition, there are significant investment costs related to clogged irrigation canals.
The study has also indicated that a well-managed, sustainable and effective forestation activity would help Ethiopia to tackle the recurrent drought and contribute significantly to prevent the social and economic impacts of sedimentation occurred due to soil erosion in the downstream countries in addition to boosting the level of water in the Nile River as the several Nile tributary rivers in Ethiopia will be able to have adequate rainfall. Most of Ethiopian Rivers are in one way or another transboundary. The forests located in the mountains of Ethiopia are the vital water sources of these tributary rivers.
This means that the mountains of Ethiopia are the major sources of water to countries in the region. Hence, environmental protection activities focusing on forestation in the Ethiopian mountains is critically important for the wellbeing of the entire Nile downstream nations and people in the region as well. The forests developed in Ethiopia play a significant role to protecting the safety of the Nile Basin region including Egypt and Sudan beyond Ethiopia.
Hence, the participation of Egypt and Sudan in the ongoing Ethiopia’s green legacy initiative is imperative in order to rehabilitate the river basin areas and ensure their long term benefits of Nile River through planting trees. As long as Egyptian and the Sudanese people drink from the same river with their fellow Ethiopians, indeed it is wise and prudent for them to rally behind the noble cause of the Green Legacy Initiative in Ethiopia.
Egyptian and Sudanese politicians should no longer waste their precious time and resources wrangling over GERD, it is planting trees over large areas of Ethiopia that increases or maintains the natural flow of the Abay River to downstream states. Abay has been there for centuries. And it will continue for the future too. As the impact of climate change is imminent, it is high time that downstream countries, at least, provide support to Ethiopia’s Green Legacy Initiative. Egyptian and Sudanese brothers and sisters should come this rainy season to Ethiopia and plant trees for Nile River, common to us all.
Climate change is affecting all people regardless of geographical locations, where mitigating the climate change challenge together requires confidence and cooperation. Hence, Egypt and Sudan must demonstrate conviction and political commitment to commending the Green Legacy Initiative whose dividend transcends beyond Ethiopia. Its effective implementation will provide a paramount contribution to prevent the risk of siltation, sedimentation and ease the dangers of flooding in the region, apart from ensuring the water availability of the river.
The Green Legacy is also strongly intertwined with several international and regional environmental protection programs including the Africa Union Agenda 2063, the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs), the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and the Global Environmental Agendas including Paris Agreement on climate change among others. It is also in line with several regional projects including the Nile Trans boundary Environmental Action Project (NTEAP).
Ethiopia’s green legacy initiative should be given proper support from the international community as it is one of the steps initiated by the government of Ethiopia to realizing the global agenda of green environment. It is indeed prudent to mention the message Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed conveyed to African brothers and sisters while launching the Green Legacy Initiative 2022: he invited them to join Ethiopia in making Green Legacy a continent-wide phenomenon, covering the beloved Africa in green; and to international partners, to contribute to the continued success and reach of the Green Legacy initiative.