The Drying Lands – University of Copenhagen

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The Drying Lands

In many parts of the world, from Australia over the Middle East to southern Europe and Sahelian Africa, water has become a very scarce resource. Deforestation and changing climatic conditions have contributed to an accelerating drought, which again has lead to a loss of human lives on unprecedented scales. The concern about drought and hunger in Sahel is not new; but it has intensified as the drought has continued and local thresholds reached.

This part of the project will thus focus on the drying of lands and their consequences for human life, including a close analysis of the strategies of coping adopted and the inevitable social disruptions in the wake of hunger. The main focus will be on Sahelian Africa, where climate, agriculture, and ways of life are relatively uniform across national boundaries. Within this socio-economic system, the water resource plays a crucial role socially as well as ecologically; the salient distinction in this area is the annual rainfall. As is well known from televised humanitarian catastrophes, the region has been subject to a large pressure on natural resources during the last decades, not least to a decreasing rainfall and consecutive years of harvest failure - all the more disastrous because of an undiminished population pressure.

There is a huge problem of missing expertise in the face of drought (and other disasters), implying an absence of proper administrative procedures for dealing with pending danger as well as conceptual difficulties in containing sudden catastrophic events in categories that will allow for redress before the catastrophe becomes chronic. Finally, there is an all too meagre knowledge on how people act upon experience, also in face of the unprecedented.

This project wants to take all of these domains into account in a fresh approach to resilience in drought-ridden areas, often hit by political unrest as well, due to the shrinking of the liveable space.