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‘Great Green Wall’ screening at Expo 2020 Dubai highlights climate-change damage in Africa’s Sahel

The documentary addresses the major challenge posed by global warming in the African region
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Documentary film Great Green Wall was screened at Expo 2020 Dubai to raise awareness of the monumental impact climate change is having on the Sahel region of Africa.

The ambitious Great Green Wall project aims to plant an 8,000-kilometre “wall” of trees across Africa, from Senegal to Djibouti, which, if successful, will be the largest living structure on Earth and provide work for 20 million people.

Malian musician and activist Inna Modja goes on an epic journey across the country, looking at the problems caused by climate change, why the wall is needed and how different communities are working towards making it a reality.

Inna Modja said: “This vibrant and vulnerable region that I love is embattled by desertification and drought, migration and conflict. With the acceleration of our changing climate we are now in a race against time".

AFP/PHILIPPE DESMAZES  -   Un niño camina por el lago seco de Faguibine, cerca de Bintagoungou, en la región de Tombuctú, en el norte de Mali
AFP/PHILIPPE DESMAZES - A boy walks in the dry lake of Faguibine, near Bintagoungou, in the Timbuktu region of northern Mali.

“I want to believe we are going to do enough to protect the next generation. Communities, they cannot make this change alone. It has to become a movement from the whole continent, from the whole world."

The wall crosses the Sahel, an area with a semi-arid climate, at the border between the Sahara Desert in the north and the Sudanian savanna to the south. Traditionally, agriculture has been the main source of income for the region, with more than 80 per cent of people working the land, but the changing climate is causing land to become hard, dusty, arid and very difficult to farm.

Since the project began in 2007, only 15 per cent of the wall has been planted, but the documentary proved exactly why this important social and environmental project needs to be completed. It showed the knock-on effect of this barren land, from poverty and drought to mass migration and even war, when militant groups draw in disillusioned and desperate people with nowhere to turn.

In a stark reminder of the humanitarian consequences of climate change, the documentary saw Modja talking to a range of those affected, from farmers and orphans to Boko Haram’s victims and those who had survived the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s.

AFP/MARCO LONGARI - Los pastores peul se reúnen en el mercado de ganado de N'gonga cerca de Dosso, el 22 de junio de 2019
AFP/MARCO LONGARI - Peul herders gather at the N'gonga livestock market near Dosso, June 22, 2019

Modja, who wrote songs about her trip, collaborating with local artists along the way, said: “I set out on my journey to record an album that captured the spirit of an African dream and, in that quest I was inspired by the resilience and the resolve of people.”

The film, directed and produced by Academy Award-nominated director Fernando Meirelles (City of God and The Constant Gardener), was screened at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Nexus for People and Planet and again later at the Sun Stage.

Modja concluded: “I might never see the end of this [Great Green Wall] project, but we sow the seeds in our lifetime so other hands may harvest. I cannot say we are going to be alright, it’s up to us to write that story. We need to be vigilant every day. It’s up to us to create an African dream."

“In the words of Thomas Sankara [former President of Burkina Faso], we must dare to invent the future. As a daughter of the Sahel, I ask you to please join me.”

Text, images and video: Expo Dubai 2020.