The Sahel Zone


The Sahel Zone lies between the Sahara desert in the north and the grasslands of Central Africa in the south. It stretches over 5,000 km across the African continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. The Sahel Zone is between 600 and 1,000 km wide and covers an area of 3 million square kilometers. 50 million people are spread over 8 countries. The name Sahel comes from the Arabic word for “shore”.

The Sahel zone is a flat piece of land with barren plains and isolated plateaus. Rainfall is seldom and varies from 200 to 500 mm a year. Most of the rain falls during the wet season, from June to September. Sometimes there is no rain at all and the surface stays dry.

The Sahel region is covered with grassland, shrub and isolated forests. In the northern part the Sahel consists of bushes and desert-like areas. During the long dry season many trees lose their leaves, the grass becomes brown. In the past, droughts have hit the Sahel Zone and have caused desertification and widespread famine. In some cases such droughts lasted for decades. The most recent drought hit the Sahel in 2010.

Some time ago the Sahel Zone was lush grassland with grazing wild animals. Today there are not very many wild animals because of the lack of vegetation.



Agriculture in the Sahel Zone started around 5000 BC with the cultivation of sorghum and rice.  Farmers raised cattle and sheep. Afterwards the region started to get drier and drier. Lakes and rivers dried out, the Sahara desert was moving southwards. As a result more and more people started moving south to wetter regions. Nomads led their herds to the nearest water places.

In the last century extreme droughts have caused famines in many of the Sahel countries.  When more rain fell in the 1960s inhabitants started moving north again. In the 70s it became drier and overgrazing was the result.  It led to a hunger catastrophe in the first half of the 1980s

There are other reasons why famine has repeatedly hit this region so hard. As more and more people populated the Sahel Zone they needed more food. As a result the population was forced to raise more animals on the same area of land. Cattle, sheep, goats and other animals trampled over the little vegetation that was left.

Today most of the Sahel countries cannot produce enough food for their population. They are in a deep food crisis; over 18 million people are in danger of starving.

Even though the dramatic situation in the region seems to be man-made, climatologists believe that global warming and a change in the oceans’ currents may be a decisive factor in the Sahel crisis. They could be the reason why there is no rainfall in some years.

Global aid organizations are pouring millions into the poverty-stricken region in an attempt to save people from famine. They also support the local population with water conservation programs and show them how to plant crops in such an endangered area.




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  • agriculture = farming
  • barren = where nothing grows; area without plants
  • cattle = cows
  • climatologist = a person who studies the weather and climate
  • consist of = to be made up of
  • cover = to spread over an area
  • cultivation = the planting and growing of crops
  • current = the moving of water in a river, lake or ocean
  • decade = ten years
  • decisive = very important
  • desertification = when farm land changes into desert because it has become too dry
  • drought = a long period of dry weather when there is not enough rain for plants to grow and animals to live
  • endangered = dangerous
  • famine = a situation in which many people have little or no food at all for a long time
  • force =must, have to
  • global = worldwide
  • herd = group of animals that live together
  • inhabitant = person who lives in a certain place
  • local =  people who live there
  • man-made = not caused by nature, but by human beings
  • nomad = person who travels from place to place in search for grass for animals
  • overgrazing = when there are too many animals that eat plants, so that there is not enough time for them to grow again
  • plains = area of flat land
  • plateau = a large area of flat land that is higher than the land around it
  • populate = to live in a place
  • population = the people who live in an area
  • poverty-stricken = extremely poor
  • raise = to feed animals so that they can be used as food
  • recent =   here: the last
  • repeatedly = over and over again
  • seldom = not very often
  • shore = where land meets water
  • shrub = bushes
  • sorghum = type of grain that is grown in tropical regions
  • spread = extend
  • starve =to die because you do not have enough to eat
  • stretch = reach from one place to another
  • surface = the top layer of ground
  • trample = step on and destroy something on the ground
  • vary = to be different
  • vegetation = plants
  • water conservation = to save water
  • widespread = over a large area