Eritrea’s 1,000 kilometer coastline has been praised as one of the least polluted in the Red Sea. Although its environment at sea has been well preserved and still flourishes, Eritrea’s land has suffered the environmental consequences of development and conflict. The colonial period in Eritrea, by both Italy and Ethiopia, has caused deforestation throughout Eritrea. At the establishment of the Italian colony of Eritrea, it was estimated that some 30% of Eritrea was forested, while today the forested area is estimated at less than 3%. Some of this land has been converted to farmland due to the dramatic increase in population while some has been specifically denuded by occupying forces to reduce cover during Eritrea’s Struggle for Independence. During this Struggle and after Independence, Eritreans vowed to restore their land.
Since 1994 and the start of the Summer Work Program, high schoolers from throughout Eritrea spend their summer terracing the denuded land to reduce the washing away of valuable top-soil. These students are also responsible for planting millions of trees a year to rebuild the damaged ecosystem and strengthen the soil systems of the land. Both practices substantially improve long-term effectiveness of the scores of water detention ponds and dams built to store water for Eritrean farmers.
The primary goal of the Summer Work Program is forestation, terracing, and soil and water conservation activities. The SWP also works to build and renovate roads in rural areas, as well as participate in agricultural activities of farming communities. Since the program started in earnest in 1994, the SWP planted over 25 million seedlings, constructed more than 75,000 kilometers of terraces (reducing soil erosion), and built over 300,000 kilometers of canals.
The aim of the Green Campaign is to promote awareness of people to the harms of deforestation and reduce its effects. Some of the causes of deforestation in Eritrea are the construction of dams, paving of roads, building of houses, farming and most significantly, for household uses. Once villagers have become aware they have constructed enclosures to protect these resources. Villagers have constructed enclosures to reforest the areas around their homes. Currently there are more than 200,000 hectares of land under the permanent & temporary enclosure systems practiced by local villagers. The goal of these enclosures is to expand the regeneration of natural vegetation and attract wild animals.
Eritrea’s efforts to reforest the country are part of parallel efforts to combat desertification. As a Sahelian state (the Sahel is the region immediately south of the Sahara) Eritrea has agreed to work with fellow states to develop a “green wall” to combat the creeping desertification from the Sahara.
Deforestation is one of the factors that leading to expanded desertification. The factors that lead to deforestation (and thus desertification) include demand for arable land and land for grazing due to population pressures, unwise expansion of agricultural activity, and house construction. Soil erosion is another factor causing desertification due to in appropriate land use practices, poor farming practice, limited soil and water conservation practices, complications from the land tenure system, and overgrazing. Each of these lead to reduced ground cover which ultimately leads to the washing away of 35-75 million tons of fertile soil annually in Eritrea.
The Great Green Wall Initiative is a project to plant a wall of trees across Africa at the southern edge of the Sahara desert as a means to prevent desertification. The Initiative is a partnership that supports the effort of local communities in the sustainable management and use of forests, rangelands and other natural resources in dry lands. It also seeks to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The current Initiative countries are Eritrea, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal.
The investment of Eritrea, a developing country, in environmental preservation is substantial. Eritrea’s community-based experience in environmental restoration represents one avenue of improvement.