Sahel (/səˈhɛl/) is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone
of transition in
Africa between the
Sahara to the north and the
Sudanian Savanna to the south. Having a semi-arid climate, it
stretches across the south-central latitudes of Northern Africa
Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. The name is derived from
the Arabic word sāḥil (ساحل, Arabic
pronunciation: [ˈsaːħil]) meaning "coast" or "shore" in a
figurative sense (in reference to the southern edge of the vast
Sahara), while the name Swahili means "coastal [dweller]" in a
Sahel part of
Africa includes (from west to east) parts of
northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, northern Burkina
Faso, the extreme south of Algeria, Niger, the extreme north of
Nigeria, central Chad, central and southern Sudan, the extreme north
of South Sudan, Eritrea, Cameroon,
Central African Republic
Central African Republic and
extreme north of Ethiopia.
Historically, the western part of the
Sahel was sometimes known as the
Sudan region. This belt was roughly located between the
the coastal areas of West Africa.
2 Flora and fauna
5.1 Early agriculture
5.2 Sahelian kingdoms
5.3 Colonial period
6 Recent droughts
6.1 2010 drought
Desertification and soil loss
8 Instability & Violence
9 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Camels trample the soil in the semiarid
Sahel as they move to water
holes, such as this one in Chad.
The lush green of the rainy season Sahelian forest, along the
Kayes Road in Mali. The trees in the foreground are acacia.
Note the large baobab tree.
Sahel people with livestock and azawakh dogs
Sahel spans 5,400 km (3,360 mi) from the Atlantic Ocean
in the west to the
Red Sea in the east, in a belt that varies from
several hundred to a thousand kilometers (c. 600 miles) in width,
covering an area of 3,053,200 square kilometers
(1,178,850 sq mi). It is a transitional ecoregion of
semi-arid grasslands, savannas, steppes, and thorn shrublands lying
between the wooded
Sudanian Savanna to the south and the
Sahara to the
The topography of the
Sahel is mainly flat; most of the region lies
between 200 and 400 meters (660 and 1,310 ft) in elevation.
Several isolated plateaus and mountain ranges rise from the Sahel, but
are designated as separate ecoregions because their flora and fauna
are distinct from the surrounding lowlands. Annual rainfall varies
from around 100–200 mm (4–8 in) in the north of the
Sahel to around 600 mm (24 in) in the south.
Flora and fauna
Sahel is mostly covered in grassland and savanna, with areas of
woodland and shrubland. Grass cover is fairly continuous across the
region, dominated by annual grass species such as Cenchrus biflorus,
Schoenefeldia gracilis and
Aristida stipoides. Species of acacia are
the dominant trees, with
Acacia tortilis the most common, along with
Acacia senegal and
Acacia laeta. Other tree species include Commiphora
africana, Balanites aegyptiaca, Faidherbia albida, and Boscia
senegalensis. In the northern part of the Sahel, areas of desert
Panicum turgidum and
Aristida sieberana, alternate
with areas of grassland and savanna. During the long dry season, many
trees lose their leaves and the predominantly annual grasses die.
Sahel was formerly home to large populations of grazing mammals,
including the scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah), dama gazelle
Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas), red-fronted gazelle
(Gazella rufifrons), the giant prehistoric buffalo (Pelorovis) and
Bubal hartebeest (Alcelaphus busephalus buselaphus), along with large
predators like the
African wild dog
African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), the Northwest
African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki), the Northeast African
cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii), the West African lion
(Panthera leo senegalensis) and the
East African lion
East African lion (Panthera leo
melanochaita). The larger species have been greatly reduced in number
by over-hunting and competition with livestock, and several species
are vulnerable (Dorcas gazelle, cheetah, lion and red-fronted
gazelle), endangered (
Dama gazelle and African wild dog), or extinct
(the Scimitar-horned oryx is probably extinct in the wild, and both
Pelorovis and the
Bubal hartebeest are now extinct).
The seasonal wetlands of the
Sahel are important for migratory birds
Africa and on the African-Eurasian flyways.
Ennedi Plateau is located at the border of the
Sahara and the Sahel
Sahel has a tropical, hot steppe climate (Köppen climate
classification BSh). The climate is typically hot, sunny, dry and
somewhat windy all year long. The Sahel's climate is similar to, but
less extreme than, the climate of the
Sahara desert located just to
Sahel mainly receives a low to a very low amount of precipitation
annually. The steppe has a very long, prevailing dry season and a
short rainy season. The precipitation is also extremely irregular, and
varies considerably from season to season. Most of the rain usually
falls during only one or two months, while the other months may remain
absolutely dry. The entire
Sahel region generally receives between
100 mm and 600 mm of rain yearly. A system of subdivisions
often adopted for the Sahelian climate based on annual rainfall is as
follows: the Saharan-Sahelian climate, with mean annual precipitation
between around 100 and 200 mm (such as Khartoum, Sudan), the
strict Sahelian climate, with mean annual precipitation between around
200 and 600 mm (such as Kiffa, Mauritania) and the
Sahelian-Sudanese climate, with mean annual precipitation between
around 200 and 400 mm (such as Niamey, Niger). The relative
humidity in the steppe is low to very low, often between 10% and 25%
during the dry season and between 25% and 75% during the rainy season.
The least humid places have a relative humidity under 35%.
Sahel is characterized by constant, intense heat, with an
unvarying temperature. The
Sahel rarely experiences cold temperatures.
During the hottest period, the average high temperatures are generally
between 36 and 42 °C (97 and 108 °F) (and even more in the
hottest regions), often for more than three months, while the average
low temperatures are around 25 to 31 °C (77 to 88 °F).
During the "coldest period", the average high temperatures are between
27 and 33 °C (81 and 91 °F) and the average low
temperature are between 15 and 21 °C (59 and 70 °F).
Everywhere in the Sahel, the average mean temperature is over
18 °C (64 °F) due to the tropical climate.
Sahel has a high to very high sunshine duration year-round,
between 2,700 hours (about 61% of the daylight hours) and 3,500 hours
(more than 79% of the daylight hours). The sunshine duration in the
Sahel approaches desert levels, and is comparable to that in the
Arabian Desert, for example, even though the
Sahel is only a steppe
and not a desert. The cloud cover is low to very low. For example,
Niger has 3,082 hours of bright sunshine; Gao,
Mali has near
3,385 hours of sunshine; Timbuktu,
Mali has 3,409 sunny hours, and
Chad has 3,205 hours of sunlight.
Fulani herders in Mali
Traditionally, most of the people in the
Sahel have been semi-nomads,
farming and raising livestock in a system of transhumance, which is
probably the most sustainable way of utilizing the Sahel. The
difference between the dry North with higher levels of soil nutrients
and the wetter South with more vegetation, is utilized by having the
herds graze on high quality feed in the North during the wet season,
and trek several hundred kilometers to the South to graze on more
abundant, but less nutritious feed during the dry period.[citation
In Western Sahel, polygamy and child marriage are common. Female
genital mutilation is also practiced across the Sahel.
Around 4000 BC, the climate of the
Sahara and the
Sahel started to
become drier at an exceedingly fast pace. This climate change caused
lakes and rivers to shrink rather significantly and caused increasing
desertification. This, in turn, decreased the amount of land conducive
to settlements and caused migrations of farming communities to the
more humid climate of West Africa.
Main article: Sahelian kingdoms
Trans-Saharan trade and Islamization of the Sudan
Ethnic groups in the Sahel
Sahelian kingdoms were a series of monarchies centered in the
Sahel between the 9th and 18th centuries. The wealth of the states
came from controlling the trans-Saharan trade routes across the
desert, especially the slave trade with the Islamic world. Their power
came from having large pack animals like camels and horses that were
fast enough to keep a large empire under central control and were also
useful in battle. All of these empires were quite decentralized with
member cities having a great deal of autonomy. The first large
Sahelian kingdoms emerged after AD 750 and supported several large
trading cities in the
Niger Bend region, including Timbuktu, Gao, and
Sahel states were hindered from expanding south into the forest
zone of the Ashanti and Yoruba peoples as mounted warriors were all
but useless in the forests and the horses and camels could not survive
the heat and diseases of the region.
Sahel fell to France in the late 19th century as part of
French West Africa.
Chad was added in 1900 as part of French
Equatorial Africa. The French territories were decolonized in 1960.
Sahel (the part in what is now Sudan) did not fall to the
European powers but was annexed by
Muhammad Ali of Egypt
Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1820. It
came under British administration as part of the
Sultanate of Egypt
Sultanate of Egypt in
1914. The Sudanese
Sahel became part of independent
Sudan in 1956, and
Sudan in turn achieved its independence from
Sudan proper in
For hundreds of years, the
Sahel region has experienced regular
droughts and megadroughts. One megadrought, from 1450 to 1700, lasted
250 years. There was a major drought in the
Sahel in 1914 caused
by annual rains far below average, leading to large-scale famine. From
1951 to 2004, the
Sahel experienced some of the most consistent and
severe droughts in Africa. The 1960s saw a large increase in
rainfall in the region, making the northern drier region more
accessible. There was a push, supported by governments, for people to
move northwards. When the long drought period from 1968 through 1974
began, grazing quickly became unsustainable and large-scale denuding
of the terrain followed. Like the drought in 1914, this led to a
large-scale famine, but this time somewhat tempered by international
visibility and an outpouring of aid. This catastrophe led to the
founding of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Main article: 2010
In June to August 2010 famine struck the Sahel. Niger's crops
failed to mature in the heat, 350,000 faced starvation, and 1,200,000
were at risk of famine. In
Chad the temperature reached
47.6 °C (117.7 °F) on 22 June in Faya-Largeau, breaking a
record set in 1961 at the same location.
Niger tied its highest
temperature record set in 1998, also on 22 June, at 47.1 °C in
Bilma. That record was broken the next day, when
48.2 °C (118.8 °F). The hottest temperature recorded in
Sudan was reached on 25 June, at 49.6 °C (121.3 °F) in
Dongola, breaking a record set in 1987.
Niger reported on 14 July
that diarrhea, starvation, gastroenteritis, malnutrition, and
respiratory diseases had sickened or killed many children. The new
military junta appealed for international food aid and took serious
steps to call on overseas help. On 26 July, the heat reached
near-record levels over
Chad and Niger, and in northern Niger
about 20 people reportedly died of dehydration by 27 July.
Desertification and soil loss
Dust strom in Niamey, Niger
Over-farming, over-grazing, over-population of marginal lands, and
natural soil erosion, have caused serious desertification of the
region. This has had an impact on shelter construction, making
it necessary to change the used materials. The Woodless Construction
project was introduced in
Sahel in 1980 by the Development Workshop,
achieving since then a high social impact in the region.
Major dust storms are a frequent occurrence as well. During November
2004, a number of major dust storms hit Chad, originating in the
Bodélé Depression. This is a common area for dust storms
(occurring, on average, 100 days every year).
On 23 March 2010, a major sandstorm hit Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia,
Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and inland Sierra Leone. Another struck in
southern Algeria, inland Mauritania, Mali, and northern Ivory
Coast at the same time.
Instability & Violence
Terrorist organizations including Boko Haram, al Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb (AQIM) operating in the
Sahel have contributed to the
violence, extremism and instability of the region.
Community of Sahel-Saharan States
Epidemiology of Meningitis
Sahara Conservation Fund
^ "Definition grid different of
Sahel (British and World English)".
Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 2015-10-10.
^ A System of Modern Geography. E. Huntington & Co. 1834.
^ "Sahel: $1.6 billion appeal to address widespread humanitarian
crisis". United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
^ The "
Sudan region" encompasses not just the history of the Republic
Sudan (whose borders are those of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, drawn in
1899) but assf the wider Sahel, in Arabic known as bilad as-sudan,
"the land of the blacks".
^ a b c "Sahelian
Acacia savanna". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World
Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 2009-12-07.
Niamey Temperature - Niamey.Climatemps.com".
Timbuktu Temperature -
Gao Temperature - Gao.Climatemps.com".
N'Djamena Temperature -
^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Retrieved 5 June 2017.
^ "UNICEF WCARO - Overview - Violence against children".
^ O'Brien, Patrick K., ed. (2005). Oxford Atlas of World History. New
York: Oxford University Press. pp. 22–23.
^ Brahic, Catherine. "
Africa trapped in mega-drought cycle". New
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^ Scholl, Adam. "Map Room: Hidden Waters". World Policy Journal.
Retrieved 17 December 2012.
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Channel4.com. 2010-07-01. Retrieved 2010-07-28.
^ Foy, Henry (2010-06-21). "Millions face starvation in west Africa,
warn aid agencies". The Guardian. London.
^ Masters, Jeff. "NOAA: June 2010 the globe's 4th consecutive warmest
month on record". Weather Underground. Jeff Masters' WonderBlog.
Archived from the original on 19 July 2010. Retrieved 21 July
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the original on 2010-06-27. Retrieved 2010-07-28.
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SIOR, Social Impact Open Repository.
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The Growing Crisis in Africa’s
Sahel Region: Joint Hearing before
the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and
International Organizations and the Subcommittee on the Middle East
Africa and the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation
and Trade of the Committee in Foreign Affairs, House of
Representatives, One Hundred Thirteenth Congress, First Session, May
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sahel.
Acacia savanna". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife
World Wildlife Fund (2001). "Sahelian
Acacia savanna". WildWorld
Ecoregion Profile. National Geographic Society. Archived from the
original on 2010-03-08.
rain4sahara.org: Rain for the
Sahel and Sahara