The Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) has embarked on what would, on the surface, appear to be an ambitious project of 'Taming the Sahara Desert'. Gargantuan as it may seem, we agree with General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) that it is a doable project with huge economic and environmental prospects.
In taking on the project, the chairman of the governing council of Nigeria Society of Engineers-Taming African Desert (NSE-TAD) project, Engr Mustafa Shehu, lamented the alarming rate at which the sahara desert was encroaching on arable lands. This, he said, was compounded by the effects of afforestation which is posing a long term economic loss to the country. Shehu also provided frightening statistics to emphasise the urgency of the project.
According to him, in Nigeria, the immediate danger is that about 350,000 hectares of land are lost to desert encroachment. A breakdown of this shows that the Sahara desert is advancing southwards at the rate of 0.6 kilometres every year with the attendant demographic displacements in all the frontline northern states, not to mention the loss of billions of naira, as well as a deterioration in food security.
We agree with the position of the promoters of the project that it would bring about a smooth intercontinental trade as movement of goods and services across the continent would be enhanced. We also agree with the position that taming the desert has the potential of providing clean water to millions of people.
The late Libyan leader, Moumar Ghadafi tried it in the Libyan desert with good success in his man-made river project. Taming the desert can also provide an alternative source of power if the abundant solar and wind energy potentials were harnessed. There are even more in the areas of communication as alternative route for the fibre optic broadband cables as well as pipelines for gas and oil transportation.
But we warn that it might turn out to be a misadventure to go hitech in a low technology environment. The engineers should be well advised to collaborate with ongoing efforts to tame the desert. Tree planting has been an accepted mode of checking the march of the desert.
Trees like the neem and eucalyptus have served not only to check desert encroachment but also provided raw materials in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries in the region. The engineers must see the need to build on those activities that had served and are still serving their purpose even as we speak to expose its huge job creating potentials.
We are encouraged to support this project because it is private sector-driven and will be handled in a businesslike manner. However, that does not mean that the crucial government participation in actualising it should be ignored.
In our view, this project if handled in a collaborative process between the public and private sectors of the economy not just in Nigeria but across the continent would yield the desired result of integrating and boosting economies in the adjoining countries.