World Day to Combat Desertification

Making Amends

Dismiss the grainy image
of time-smoothed sand.
that this is land devoid of life;
land ripped bare.
Waste land.
Vast strands despoiled by human hand.

First you take the trees.
No leaves to fall and pile,
decay and mulch and feed the soil.
No roots to hold the earth in place.
Wind-whipped tilth that dries
and turns to straying dust.
Other flora die and fauna rust away.
Nothing to retain them there.
Where lushness once held sway
bare rocks prey in the scarred domain.

Replace the trees.
Let human hand rebuild
what it destroyed,
appeasing nature.
Fill the void with a wall of trees
across the breadth of Africa.
Nurture them.
Let the Sahel come alive again.


Scatter seed.
Most will fall on stony ground.
Most will die
but some will root –
where nature found a way.
Let acacia thrive; thorn-scrub, bush
push back the boundaries,
reclaim the lost fecundity,
take their course
The force of nature straddles time.
Years for leaves to fall in autumn rain,
pile, decay and mulch again
to feed the soil.
Microbes flourish,
insects return,
birds fly back,
small mammals
then larger ones predate.
Let later generations say
that we did care –
where others ravaged
we had made amends.

17th June 2013Notes:  “Behind the rhetoric what is really being done to combat desertification?”  The Sahel – the drylands between Africa’s tropical savannahs and the Sahara Desert – suffers the effects of desertification, turning into a dusty, unproductive wasteland thanks to a combination of overgrazing and deforestation.  Trees are good for the soil and important for food security.  But in impoverished regions of rural Africa, selling firewood is a source of quick cash and many trees along the Sahel have been felled.  According to the UN, 850 million people – nearly one eighth of the global population – is directly affected by this process of land degradation.  To raise awareness of the issue, the UN reserved June 17 as World Day to Combat Desertification and has also been supporting projects to tackle the phenomenon head on. One of those is Great Green Wall of Africa, a 4,800-mile “wall” of trees that is being planted across the continent between Senegal and Djibouti.

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