Africa's Sahel region -- which extends almost 3,000 miles (about 4,800 kilometres) across the continent -- is a semi-arid area of grassland and shrubs with few economic activities.
Africa's Sahel region -- which extends almost 3,000 miles (about 4,800 kilometres) across the continent -- is a semi-arid area of grassland and shrubs with few economic activities. Illness and malnutrition are endemic and average life expectancy is about 37 years. In 1975, members of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) special assistance committee proposed the creation of an international group to examine cooperative development programmes for the region. That group met for the first time in March, 1976. Representatives from the eight African member countries met in Paris, France, recently at the headquarters of the OECD.
SYNOPSIS: When the group -- known as the Sahel Club -- first met in March, last year, they instructed Niger's Minister of Rural Development, Boulama Manga, to prepare a long-term strategy for the region. Mr Manga told representatives at the recent Paris meeting what problems the Sahel had faced. The Sahel lies to the south of the Sahara Desert. Between 1969 and 1973 it suffered the worst drought that has ever been recorded. Mr Manga said there had been a strong response to the situation by other countries around the world and by international relief organisations. And it was with that background the Sahel Club came into existence.
The conditions in the Sahel are the worst example of a situation that has been repeated in a number of other areas across the world. Vast tracts of land have been transformed from semi-fertile to extremely arid by what has become known as "desert-creep". The problem has become serious that a United Nations Conference on Desertification (UNCOD) will take place in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi in August this year.
However, there fears, the conference will become as protracted an affair as another UN-sponsored gathering -- that on the Law of the Sea.
Representatives of the eight West African nation members of the Sahel Club will go to the Canadian city of Ottawa on the 30th of May and will meet officials from aid-donor countries and organisations. The meeting -- to be chaired by President Moktar Ould Daddah of Mauritania -- will last for four days. The representatives hope their discussions will lead to agreement on a long-term economic development programme designed at lifting the Sahel from its present position as one of the world's poorest areas.
The West African members of the Sahel Club which attended the Paris meeting recently were Mauritania, Chad, Gambia, Upper Volta, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal Mali and Niger.