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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 15:17 GMT
Nigerian houses swallowed by sand
Sandy landscape in Yobe

By Senan Murray
BBC News website, Yobe State

Ciroma Mohammed is standing on the spot he says was once occupied by his house in north-east Nigeria.

"We lose houses to the desert every year," he says from the village of Bulamadu in Yobe State.

Desertification is just nature at work and it will reverse itself when it is ready
Sani Yunusa

The fine sand is swallowing up houses and roads every year.

Almost all the villagers in this dusty arid region say they have lost homes and farms to the Sahara Desert which is expanding southwards.

"What we do is that when the sand moves and buries our homes and farms and even our wells, we simply keep retreating southwards," says Aminu Mahmud, another villager who says he has already lost two different houses to the sand.

He says the situation deteriorates every April when strong pre-rainy season sandstorms sweep sand into their settlements.


"The desert's unrelenting onslaught is pushing us further away from our original homes and it seems there's absolutely nothing we can do about it," Mr Mahmud says.

Ciroma Mohammed
Ciroma and his fellow villagers keep moving southwards
"The desert has swallowed up our houses, our farms, our roads, our lives. It has changed our livelihoods."

A middle-aged Muslim woman who did not want her photograph taken says women in Bulamadu now spend most of the day travelling long distances in search of potable water.

"Water has become more precious than gold now," the woman who introduced herself as Mairo said, as she sat frying bean cakes known as kosai.

"You wake up one morning and the water well that was there yesterday has been buried under the sand. As a result, most of us women have to trek long distances to get water."


The villagers do not seem to see any link between their large appetite for firewood and the advancing sand dunes.

Firewood pile
The need for firewood overrides other concerns
They keep cutting down trees in the vicinity and using sun-dried branches as wood fuel or even as an income earner.

"The impact the advancing desert is having on communities in that area is quite serious," says Jacob Nyanganji of Nigeria's University of Maiduguri which runs a specialist centre for arid zone studies.

"It is true that homes and farms have been lost to desertification in the area and it is also true that people's livelihoods have either been lost or changed completely as a result."

Nature at work

Further east in a village called Damasak, Sani Yunusa, 56, says the sand dunes were "not so strange". He claims he had witnessed something similar as a child.


"The sand should not prevent people from cutting down trees as they have been doing for centuries," he says.

"Desertification is just nature at work and it will reverse itself when it is ready."

But Mr Yunusa is no expert on desertification and the experts say that the march of the sand towards Nigeria's south has become almost irreversible.

And the more trees villagers in Bulamadu and Damask cut down, the faster the sand dunes gallop towards the coastline to the country's south.

Is climate change affecting you in Africa?

Your comments:

As a child we grow corn and other crops that require lots of rain, however, the fainfall is less now, crops that require little rain and matures within the shortest possible time has to be grown now. It is a terrible transformation that I find difficult to adapt. The weather is hotter, their are more mosquitoes and lots of different diseases that are not known to us. As a graduate of Political Science I am aware of global warming and its consequences as well as all protocols and treaties on same, but what different can it make to corrupt country like Nigeria, especially Yobe State, I can't immagine.
Aliyu Zakari, Kukar-Gadu, Yobe State, Nigeria

When we first arrived in Cape Town in 1972 our winters were well defined and often consisted of two or three days of rain at a time. There was local flooding on a routine basis and the catchment dams were regularly full and overflowing.Water restrictions were the rare exception. Today when a cold front arrives from the North West during winter, it usually produces a brief spell of rain for a couple of hours and then disappears. The dams have not been full for several years, water restrictions are in place most of the time and vary in severity according to the dam levels. The summers seem to be getting longer and the winters shorter. There is a definite threat to the local flora which is unique to the Cape and it would be a sad loss to see any of it disappear.
Alan Plastow, Cape Town, South Africa

It is true that the Sahara is moving quickly into the northern part of Nigeria. The land looks more arid and it is getting hotter every year. Most people are unaware of how their actions can have an impact on the environment. I would suggest that the NGO's and Governments should liaise with religious leaders to educate people in the churches, mosques and madarasas. I am sure there will be an impact if more trees where planted and people where aware of their actions.
Zi, Katsina, Nigeria

Yes, the climate has changed dramatically, causing the seasons to shift. For example, here in Kenya we expect high rainfall during April, and October low rainfall. It's vice-versa now following the floods which hit most the area in the country. Some of rivers have reduced their water volume - although this may be due to introduction of poor Re-forestation, substituting the indigenous trees with some like blue gum trees. Those trees are important in reclamation of waterlogged land, for their high intake of moisture from the soil.
Joseph Gichimu Wachiuri, Nairobi Kenya

Climate change is not only to blame, alternative heating methods to stop the trees being chopped for firewood. There has been a dramatic climatic change for some time now. In the early 1980s in Ghana, there was a devastating bush fires that swept the entire length and breadth of Ghana. The country has not recovered fully since then. Coupled with that has been human activities that have contributed to environmental change. Indiscriminate felling of trees and not planting any in their places have affected the country. Consequently, rainfall pattern in the country has been disrupted with less rain in the wet season and no rains at all in the dry season. When I was young visitors to my village could not drive their vehicles because they would be loaded with tons of food items for free. Ironically, anytime I am visiting the old folks at the village now, I have to buy food items there. We need to arrest the situation by planting more trees to check environmental degradation.

After reading this article, it strikes me that not enough emphasis was put on the fact that the population is increasing and they keep cutting more wood - which is of course their livelihood. Whilst i don't dispute that climate change is a very real problem today, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the more trees they cut down, the faster the desert is going to advance. I don't think enough people realise what trees do and how a lot of them can affect micro-climates.
M B, Devon, UK

The level of Lakes Victoria & Kyoga have really gone done. It is painful the Government is aggrevating by giving away natural forest covers to be cleared.
Desmond Duka, Kampala Uganda

Yes it's true global is changing everything. The rivers we used to swim when young are all gone because as the population increased people started cultivating on the river banks and cutting trees without caring. Kangundo my home place used to have so many bananas, sugarcanes, arrow roots name it but nowadays that's a dream those things are no more.
Patrick , Nairobi, Kenya

I've lived in the region and I know most people cut down dried-out[dead] trees. The fight against the desert should be carried out at the "front line". Cutting down trees down south makes no difference to me. If barriers are built near the sahara boundary that could break the destructive force of nature.
Tony, Nigeria

Climate change would and still gonna affect most parts of Africa, I mean in early 1980s it used to be heavy rain during the raining season but those day have gone, people no longer plough due to uncertainty of rain. Boteti river used to in full flood but more now.
kerimuine hevita, rakops, Botswana

Growing up in the 70s, I remember that the harmattan season used to be cold. Not any more. The only thing you notice today is the stinging heat. The rains don't fall as they used to. We once had the "7 days rain" when rain will fall continually for 7 days. Now that too is gone. All we have is the clinging heat. Even the air is still.
Robert Lazobra, Lagos, Nigeria

time in recorded history! We experience extreme temperatures during Summer, facilitating veld fires that devestate the countryside and endanger lives. In the last few years the level of rain has dropped, my parents spoke of beautiful African storms every Summer; these have been replaced with unbearable temperatures.
Werner Coetzee, Pretoria, South Africa

When I was a young boy, we used to swim in a river that has crossed our village but nowadays the water is so shallow that you even don't need a bridge to cross it. There was a lot of rain in those days. Hardly a day could pass without rain but nowadays even three or four weeks. Things are getting bad and authorities don't seem to understand.
vincent nyakeri keraro, kisii- kenya

What an IDIOT question: climate change is affecting every part of the globe at every moment during the last 4.5 billion years. If anyone at the BBC can point to one part of the earth that isn't subject to climate change - good or bad - I will happily drink what is left of Lake Victoria - remembering that lakes in general are the MOST transient of topographical features, so you better be quick!
Mary Scotton, Cape Town SA

It's even worse in central Kenya where temperatures keep on rising to intolerable levels. Rivers like chania & kariminu are on the verge extinction. Our leaders should legislate on these instead of telling us of stupid wars in Iraq & Afganistan. We drink water not blood
john kariuki, nairobi,kenya

I used to live in Kano, in Northern Nigeria, and I'd have to say that the actions of the villagers has as much to do with this problem as climate change. I've lived all over Africa, and it seems that only in Nigeria do the locals see the land they live in as something to be exploited for their own gain. There is precious little cultivation, with most income coming from what they can take from the countryside. Their overwhelming background in the North is nomadic, so it's to be expected really. If they want to settle in one area then they should be taught how to look after the land, how to create a sustainable balance with nature.
David Freeman, London, UK

What is happening in North-eastern Nigeria is happening all over Africa. While visiting my families in Northern Uganda recently, I witness the same thing. Forests that I remember as a kid are gone. Huge trees I use to play under as child have all been cut for charcoal. In Uganda at least the call it the Southern Sudan effect because most of the charcoals are being transported to Southern Sudan where they can fetch three times what they sell for in Uganda. In the case of people of Northern Uganda, one can at least attribute the problem to lack of mean to support once self given people have been in internment camps for the last 15year. Fire wood and charcoals have become the sold mean of earning income. Once can say that these people don't see the nexus between cutting tree and desertification and I too once though the same thing. But I conversation I had with some one on bus while travelling to Kitgum Town in northern Uganda shaded a new light on the reason why people do what they do. When I raised the issue of environmental impact of all the try cutting on the future, my friend quickly reminded me that once worries about environment if they think there is a future. And indeed in the case of Northern Uganda people, it is not hard to believe that such is the prevailing attitude of the day. Life in camps give any one very little hope of the future. Perhaps, that is the driving forces behind desertification throughout Africa. The only solution to this problem is to provide people with alternative means of survival and to offer them basic enviromental classes. Without quick change of attitude, Africa will burn and soon the rest of the world will follow. And none of the environment conservation going on in the western world will mean a damn thing without saving Africa or any other thirdworld continents like South America.
Otika, Portland, Oregon USA

I used to live in Zimbabwe, and we were already seeing the effects of de-forestation on dessertification there 12 years ago, before the climate change issue was as widely recognised as it is today. What is having a bigger impact on dessertification than global warming is, however, pressure on natural resources due to over population. Climate change is undoubtable contributing to the situation, but increasing population density is the primary culprit.
Adam Martin, Los Angeles, US, regarding Zimbabwe

Oh yes, I have seen it all with my own eyes, the rainfall is less, and all the rivers I swam in when young are all gone. The lake that I used to see and admire after every sunrise, Lake Ol Bollosat, near Nyahururu (in Kenya), has shrank. In my village, no more virgin land remains while farmers hungry for land have cleared land up to the river bed. As all this happens the population continue too rise as policies makers turn their attentions to grandiose projects like constitution which will not succeed if the mouths are hungry and people are hopeless. It is time Africa stopped living for today.
X N Iraki, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA

Yes, climate is affecting us very much even our own lake victoria is shrinking at rocket speeds.
Samuel Irungu, Uganda

When I was in Tanzania a couple of years ago, we were climbing Kilimanjaro, and the guide we were with said that in less than forty years, the snow at the peak would all be gone because of global warming. I think if you want a striking visual effect, that would be it - over 5000 metres up, a once permanently snow-covered peak, just barren rock.
Karl Brown, Norwich, UK

Climate change in its self is not a problem, for Zimbabwe, it has always occurred and people have adopted. What is worrisome is the pace and magnitude at which climate change is taking place, which is preventing adaptation to the changing environment. for example if one cuts an indigenous tree like a Mopane tree, replacing that tree by planting a similar tree now almost impossible under natural conditions due to changes in climate. It is unlikely that Zimbabwe, poor as we are can afford the technology that is needed to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
david chikodzi, victoria falls, zimbabwe

During the summer of 2005 I spent extensive time in Uganda. I was often in a small village called Nakyessa, in central Uganda. Nobody there had heard about global warming and I wasn't about to explain it. Instead, I asked an elderly local man to tell me about the weather where he lived. He said that years ago rains came and went with consistency, that everything was fertile. "Now," he said, "there is not much rain at all. It will be dry during the rainy season and sometimes sprinkle during the dry season." For this man who had never heard of global warming, his comments summed it up.
Brian Kaufman, South Florida, USA - Regarding Nakyessa, Uganda


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