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Desertification Pushes South Across West African Borders

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Desertification is pushing further south in West Africa, crossing borders and creating devastating effects on local populations. One example where the desert is advancing is from Mauritania to northern Senegal. VOA's Nico Colombant met with residents in the Podor border region who say their livelihoods are now at risk.

Oumar Samba Kane, a 53-year-old local farmer, walks across caked, cracked and parched earth, which used to be a river 150 meters wide.

He says everyone used to use the river to wash clothes, to get fish, and to water the cattle.

He says every year now, there is more and more wind, which seems to be bringing more and more sand, pushing it into fields, making more and more dunes, and blocking waterways.

In his shed, which he says used to be full of bags of cereal and beans, there are now just a few bags to feed his family and other villagers.

As birds chirp overhead, the village chief from nearby Singthou Amadou Mariam walks along the Senegal River that divides Senegal from Mauritania.

It is barely several-meters deep, getting narrower and narrower from year to year, while pipes that run from the river to irrigate nearby fields are out of use.

Village chief Idrissa Diop says there is not enough water anymore to cultivate the millet and rice local farmers once produced.

He says most young people are leaving the village, and that only old farmers like this man trying to turn and find some use to this dried earth are left to work.

Many younger Senegalese from this region try their luck in other African countries further south, where desertification does not reach, or risk their lives at sea on perilous attempts to reach Europe illegally.

Villagers here used to be able to feed themselves year-round, but now depend on financial help from relatives who have emigrated elsewhere.

Diop says the government promised what it called a great green wall to plant trees and block the desert's rapid advance, but he says nothing of the sort has happened.

One of the few young men who still live and work here is 25-year-old Alassane Sow.

As he herds cattle, he listens to an old radio with a weak signal that he carries at ear level under the hot midday sun.

He says there used to be grass everywhere, but not anymore. He says he has to walk long hours every day now for his cattle to be able to graze.

Sow says if he could he would leave as well. But he says he does not have the means to go anywhere. He also says he would feel bad for his family, if he did go, because he says, there would be no one left to do any work for those who have no choice, but to live here.

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