FILE PHOTO: A girl carries a jerrycan filled with water at a Tolou Keur garden in the Walalde department of Podor, in the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel area, Senegal, July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo

LONDON/DAKAR, June 12 (Reuters) – Africa’s Great Green Wall, which is meant to restore degraded landscapes and boost economies across the continent, is low on cash and unlikely to meet a 2030 completion goal, the president of the most recent UN summit on desertification told Reuters.

Launched in 2007, the project to reinstate 100 million hectares of land is only 30% complete, said Alain Richard Donwahi, president of the 2022 U.N. summit held in the Ivory Coast, who has access to the analysis of how it is progressing.

The project aims to restore an 8,000 kilometre-long (500 mile-long) corridor from the Atlantic to the Red Sea and benefits some of the world’s poorest countries at the edge of the Sahara Desert, including Ethiopia, Mali and Sudan.

“It is an understatement to stress that we are not in line with our common objective to complete by 2030,” Donwahi said on the sidelines of this month’s Bonn Climate Change Conference, where he was seeking renewed support for the landmark project.

“The project faces substantial challenges, primarily in terms of financing and implementation,” said Donwahi, who serves as president of the U.N. summit on desertification until the next one in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December.

With no centralised monitoring entity in charge of the project, coordinating the work across the 11 African countries involved has been especially challenging, Donwahi said.

Meanwhile, some of those countries have been beset by humanitarian crises in recent years fuelled by military coups, war, or Islamist insurgencies.


The project was estimated to need at least $33 billion more funding to achieve its 2030 target, according to a progress review in 2020 by the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which has provided occasional implementation reports.

International donors pledged some $19 billion at a 2021 summit, but by March of last year, only $2.5 billion had come through, with the rest due by end-2025, according to the most recent funding update from the UNCCD.

Those pledged funds are also being spread across different projects that may be dedicated to international development, but not necessarily to the Great Green Wall, Donwahi said.

The difficulty keeping track of funding so far has been a key stumbling block, he added, welcoming the launch in June of an ‘observatory’ to monitor financing and progress.

Even so, it is unclear where the project will get the remaining billions needed to get back on track. Donwahi said more investment would be needed from international donors, the private sector and Green Wall countries themselves.

Donwahi noted some progress, including 3 million jobs created in the restoration of the some 30 million hectares (74 million acres) of degraded land, roughly equivalent to the size of the Philippines.


With climate change escalating, though, the issue was increasingly a problem the wider world needs to face, said Donwahi, adding: “For too long, desertification and drought have been considered African problems”.

(Editing by Katy Daigle and Alexander Smith)