The African Great Green Wall: Interview with Environment Minister Hassan A. Hilal

Sudan's Minister for Environment: The idea of the project sprang from an initiative by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. It is an arborous belt or a row of trees that contributes to checking the desert creep that has grown in the African Continent.

Khartoum,  ( -The Great Green Wall (GGW) is considered a highly important economic project the peoples of Africa rely on as it is expected to bring in unlimited economic benefits to the inhabitants of  this extended belt  going across the continent from the east up to the west contributing to checking drought and desertification.

 The belt offers an African solution to the desertification question that has remained a chronic headache for Africa. This situation has prompted the African leaders into exploring urgent solutions to the African problems and for this purpose those leaders, including Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, met the Chadian capital N’djamena to find an end to those problems. The Sudan will have the largest GGW stretch of 1,500 kilometers long and 25 kilometers wide.


 Being concerned with the local, regional and international issues, conducted a conversation with Dr. Hassan Abdul Gadir Hilal, the Minister of Environment and Urban Development and Chairman of the Governing Council of the UN Environment Programme. The dialogue follows hereunder:- Where has the GGW project notion come from?

Dr. Hilal: The idea of the project sprang from an initiative by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. It is an arborous belt or a row of trees that contributes to checking the desert creep that has grown in the African Continent. It is made by planting trees acclimatized to the African environment to curb soil erosion, slow down the speed of the wind and soil seepage of the rain-water. The rich and poor Savanna belt has begun to get narrow, adversely affecting the living standards of the inhabitants, aggravating poverty and crime alike. Therefore, attention by African leaders has to be diverted towards the issue of desertification and drought for finding solutions. Why has implementation of the project been delayed that long while it is one of the grand develop0ment projects the African Continent relies on?

 Dr. Hilal:: The delay was due to difficulties of securing funds from the international financing institutions. For this reason it came in the limelight only in 2009 and 2010 when the Sudan endorsed and signed on the project and paid its share, being aware of its special importance for protecting the Sudan’s important gum Arabic belt, bearing in mind that the Sudan is among the world’s biggest producers of this crop. To what extent can the Sudan benefit from this great project?


 Dr. Hilal:: The Sudan will benefit to a great extent because it passes by the gum Arabic belt which is inhabited by more than 10 million people, stretching from Gedaref in the east to Darfur in the west and passes close to North and South Kordufan and the Blue Nile which are considered among the richest regions. For this reason, the GGW has to be linked with the gum Arabic belt for the part it can play in the rural development process of building towns, schools and hospitals and securing potable and irrigation waters as those regions lie at the end of the rich Savanna and beginning of the poor Savanna where the Sahara starts.

The GGW provides a means for checking the desert creep and preserving the biological diversity of the Sudan. All such projects are aimed at confronting the climatic change which is considered a basic reason for expanding the ozone hole that results from the thermal emissions from the big industrialized countries. For this reason, efforts must be accelerated for arborous and forestry plantation and probing the green economy field which means dissemination of the green culture and expansion of anything that may contribute to reinstatement of the global equilibrium and to preventing pollution of environment and potable water in addition to taking care of the sewerage and environment-friendly clean development.

At present, we are faced with environmental problems related to gold mining and mercury and work in this field must be in conciliation with the environment and we have issued Khartoum Declaration that provides for a capital free of mercury by 2015. All these efforts must be together during the next two years so that the Sudanese individual can enjoy a clean healthy life of a clean breathing air and water.

The Sudan, fortunately, was not among the states declared by the United Nations Organization as having multiple aspects of poverty and environmental destitution because that Sudan has made the right and positive start in the field of environment that led to good results. The policies we have set distance us from the environmental risks and destitution. How many African countries which are taking part in the GGW?

 Dr. Hilal:: They are 11 African countries which are: Chad, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, Mauretania, Eritrea and Djibouti. All these countries will benefit from the project while the Sudan will have the longest stretch of 1,520 km long and 25 km wide, possessing all of the green belts, covering all of the country’s states which are endangered by desertification and drought, particularly those lying within the gum Arabic belt. How do you assess the forestry belt in the Sudan? Has it been affected by the desert creep in the past period?


 Dr. Hilal:: Some forests have disappeared and nobody has shown any concern. New policies have now been set for promoting the role of the forests. We should not reserve lands and just say those are reserved for forest plantation. This is not enough and such a reservation must be followed by rehabilitation as leaving lands without rehabilitation is an environmental destruction. It is not enough to say that we have reserved 30 million feddans (acres); the question is how many feddans we have rehabilitated. If they are left without being rehabilitated, those lands will cause an environmental imbalance because they will turn into a desert. Has the Sudan presented any environment protects to the international financing institutions? If it has, what was the response by those institutions for financing those projects?

 Dr. Hilal:: Yes. The Sudan has presented 17 projects at Rio 20+ conference in Brail besides 18 other projects under consideration and will be submitted to the UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya. From our position on the presidency of UNEP Governing Council, we are going to make contacts with the relevant organizations and institutions for finding the necessary funds to finance those projects for promoting the environment in the country. The Sudan has manifested a political will with regards to the GGW project as it was evident in its high-level delegation led by the President of the Republic. Have noticed such a political will with the other countries which took part in the conference?


 Dr. Hilal:: The participation by President Omar al-Beshir was of a tremendous effect, giving a driving momentum to the conference. We have noticed this through the increasing concern with the Sudan’s participation. All recommendations and proposals presented by the Sudan were approved by the conferees. Those included a proposal for establishment of the African Carbon Bank which is a united bank for Africa that will be related to enhancing efforts for soaking up carbon in the Continent for curbing the negative effects of the thermal emissions. It is presumed that the rich countries compensate the poor and developing ones in accordance with the international agreements and Kyoto conference and Durban conference of South Africa. The carbon trade is aimed at making plantations for soaking up the carbon and other gases are emitted from the vast space and cause the ozone hole. Through our presidency of UNEP and the UNEP ministerial conference we will try to rally the resources to create a capital for the African Carbon Bank for all African countries to benefit from. Half of the African countries, which are GGW members, including the Sudan, have now paid their shares. How do you view the situation of the environment in the Sudan? What are the specific risks?

 Dr. Hilal:: The environmental risks include the medical leftovers from the surgical operations, whether obstetric or gynaecological or other operation. Incinerators must be found to change those leftovers into ash that must be buried

Because if put in the open, they will endanger the environment. We have called for the provision of numerous incinerators instead of the single incinerator which now operates in the Chinese Hospital of Omdurman. We need more than 50 incinerators in Khartoum State and 50 other incinerators for the other states to help improve the environment and a healthy living system. Are there any contacts being made with international financing institutions to finance the GGW project?


 Dr. Hilal:: Yes. The World Bank has allocated 100 million US dollars for the project, in addition to contributions by institutions concerned with environment. Some 7.5 million US dollars has been earmarked for the studies, experts and technicians. The work on the project will start during this 2013. Where will the GGW Agency and the African Carbon Bank be seated?

Dr. Hilal: The Agency will have its headquarters in N’djamena while the Carbon Bank will have its seat in Khartoum. This is a great political and diplomatic gain for the Sudan as we always seek to occupy leading positions in such organizations which can be run by Sudanese experts and personnel we have the chance to nominate to those positions to make up for the scarce opportunities the Sudanese experts find in the international organizations. Moreover, UNEP will set up in Khartoum a big regional office which we hope will be of benefit to the Sudanese experts and technicians for employment and training. When will be the kick-off for implementation of the N’djamena summit recommendations and GGW commencement?


 Dr. Hilal:: Work on the project will commence as of 2013 which is the founding year The Sudan is ready to implement its part of the GGW through its water and sewerage system projects for making forests besides settlement of the nomadic tribes along the belt, putting an end to disputes over water and grass.  Expect the regions of the belt within the Sudan will be, economically, more attractive than mining and oil regions because the former possess renewable, rather than depleted resources. I also expect our gum Arabic production and our other forest products will go up to the highest level. This will be reflected in a positive way on the country’s environmental conditions through removal of the organic pollutants which are harmful to human-beings in addition to taking care of the biological and arborous diversities. Our plan is to increase the green lands from 11% to 25% in the Sudan.