The Sahel region, a semi-arid belt that acts as a buffer zone just south of the desert, is most affected. Water, already scarce, is becoming scarcer. Soil quality is deteriorating, and a lack of vegetation is leading to food insecurity. The UN estimates roughly 135 million people who depend on these degraded lands are at risk.
But an ambitious plan, launched by the African Union in 2007, could help to hold back the hot sands and protect the Sahel communities. Within the next decade, the Great Green Wall initiative hopes to restore 100 million hectares of land between Senegal in the west and Djibouti in the east, creating a 15-kilometer-wide (9 miles) and 8,000-kilometer-long (5,000 miles) mosaic of trees, vegetation, grasslands and plants.
Having previously struggled with insufficient and unpredictable funding, the project received a major boost in January: $14 billion in new funding from France, the World Bank and other donors -- contributing nearly half of the $33 billion the UN estimates is needed to achieve the 2030 goal.
If completed in full, the wall will be more than three times the length of the Great Barrier Reef, currently the largest living structure on Earth.
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