Thursday, 17 September 2009

The deforestation of Ethiopia

In a few decades, you said, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict will seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace. We need to plant trees you told them, not just cut them down.

But they wouldn’t listen. Wanting power, like those who came before, and those before that, they fought each other, ignoring the lessons of Ethiopia’s history. In 1000CE, Aksum, the capital city grew so large the land couldn’t sustain it any more. Its people moved south to Lalibala but they exhausted the surrounding land again and were forced to move further south to Shewa, then later to Gondar. From 1883 it took just twenty years for the voracious new capital of Addis Ababa to raze a treeless zone 150km wide around the city.

The vast Ethiopian forests are nearly gone with all their creatures and plants; the last wild coffee in the world. In the 1980s, poor harvests threatened ten million, triggering the largest famine relief effort in history; yet tens of thousands still died.

You did not give up. Your Green Belt Movement planted trees, helping farmers find new ways to build a future for your beautiful, scarred land.