Into the wasteland – stark truth about kids living on climate crisis front line


 Sitting in a deserted wasteland, Mbole Agurogo looks around at what was once his crop-rich farm  He bends down and picks up a handful of sand, letting it drain between his fingers  “It started to degrade 15 years ago,” the 64-year-old says. “The land used to be green and could support plants, we were getting lots of food from here – millet, guinea corn Now we cannot use it.  “There’s nothing that can be done – rain has washed away the nutrients It is only sun that catches here. I don’t know what I can do with this land.”  This is Ghana, a country on the front line of the climate crisis in the Sahel region – the transitional zone between the Sahara desert and the belt of humid savannas in the south  The devastating effects of land degradation and desertification are clear. We have joined British charity Tree Aid to see the vital work they do, encouraging communities to protect and grow trees  People live in extreme poverty. Around 1.2 million face food insecurity and families often have to survive on one meal a day towards the end of dry season  Most cannot afford to pay for basic things like school fees and medicine. As the land and environment around them degrades, the cycle of poverty worsens   In the far north, on the border with Burkina Faso, the effects of climate change are clear Mbole’s land is in the Bongo district, one of the driest parts of northern Ghana, and the changes he has witnessed in the last few decades, particularly with extreme weather , are telling  “30 years ago we used to have enough rain,” he says. “The rains were stable, they’d always arrive in the third month of the year Now, it’s much later. When it comes, it will rain heavily and then stop.  “So we plant again Then the unpredictable rains come again and ruin the crops. We used to have a lot of trees in this community Now they are gone.” A study by Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency estimates 35% of the total land mass has become desert  Desertification – affecting topsoil, the upper layer of soil which is high in nutrients – is estimated to be running at 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) a year  Tom Skirrow, operations director at Tree Aid, says: “Degradation like this is happening because of a range of factors  “Without trees and vegetation providing root structure, the soil is hardening, it isn’t capable of retaining the moisture and the rain is running straight off the surface As the rain hits the ground, it’s running off the surface quite quickly and forming channels  “As the channels get deeper and deeper, they pull in the topsoil every time it rains, which drains nutrients  “This lack of nutrients means the plant life can’t survive, exacerbating the lack of root structure, and the cycle continues That’s how it becomes this sandy wasteland. This is just one example across northern Ghana ”  Mbole and wife Lydia have children Awalega, 12, Awine, seven, and Kingsford, three Mbole tells me he fears greatly for their futures. “This is so worrying to me. I am grown and I will be gone soon, but my kids?  “If this was part of my farm that was functioning, at least my children would have enough land to farm on  “Now we rely on small bits of land we have left. This won’t support their livelihoods when I am gone I am poor. I do not want my kids to be like me. We want them to get an education ”  Lydia, 55, is equally concerned. “The situation is challenging. We only have a tiny piece of land we can get food from Every day my husband will go to the market. I am left with the children. I am torn over what I can feed them  “My children say, ‘Mama, I am hungry.’ I look around and there is nothing I can do If this land could support agriculture, it could have given us so much.  “We could buy them school uniforms Sometimes I just don’t know what to do.”  The family’s story is not unique. As we travel the Upper East Region, we met many communities struggling because of the climate crisis Floods claimed the lives of 29 in the worst-hit areas during the week we visited the country  And just an hour’s drive away from Mbole’s barren land, many farms had been wiped out due to flooding Two weeks of torrential rain made one of the largest agricultural dams in West Africa, the Tono Irrigation Dam, collapse  The water hit farms and homes, submerging 850 hectares of farmland.  Locals said this was the first time the dam has been damaged since it was built in 1975 A farmer living nearby told us two days before our visit his rice and pepper field was submerged Now, his crops are caked in thick mud.  Solomon, a father of three, says: “We rely on the farm to support our families back home Our income pays for school fees, food, everything.  “Now it’s consumed by the floods, it’s going to be difficult for us to get income No one will want this produce, the quality is too low. We now won’t have enough food in the dry season We don’t know what to do.”  The rainy season in Ghana runs from April to October but locals say the rains this year are like nothing before  “Last year we had floods, but this year is worse,” Solomon says.  “Last year the rains came earlier and the flooding didn’t affect our crop  “This time it came a crucial time, the rice is nearly matured so it’s hit us harder, we’ll have to start all over again  “This year’s rains are different. We’ve never experienced this before.”  As well as floods, rising temperatures and extreme heat make life harder  It is estimated temperatures in the north will rise by 2.1 to 2.4C by 2050.  Solomon says “We have seen a lot of change in weather patterns. We’re worried for the future.  “If things continue this way we won’t have enough food, we can’t grow crops in this weather which means we can’t feed our families It’s just a cycle.” Visit treeaid.org.uk

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