The SAHEL (/səˈhɛl/ ) is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone
of transition in
Africa between the
Sahara to the north and the
Sudanian Savanna (historically known as the
Sudan region ) to the
south. Having a semi-arid climate , it stretches across the
south-central latitudes of Northern
Africa between the Atlantic Ocean
Red Sea . The
Arabic word _sāḥil_ (ساحل, Arabic
pronunciation: ) literally means "shore, coast", while the word
Sahara is derived from the
Arabic word for desert. Together, these
names evoke an image of the Sahel's vegetation as a coastline on the
Sahara's ocean of sand.
Sahel part of
Africa includes (from west to east) parts of
Senegal , southern
Mauritania , central
Mali , northern
Burkina Faso , the extreme south of
Niger , the extreme
Nigeria , central
Chad , central and southern
Sudan , the
extreme north of South
Cameroon , Central African
Republic and extreme north of
Historically, the western part of the
Sahel was sometimes known as
Sudan region . This belt was roughly located between the Sahara
and the coastal areas of West
* 1 Geography
* 2 Flora and fauna
* 3 Climate
* 4 Culture
* 5 History
* 5.1 Early agriculture
* 5.3 Colonial period
* 6 Recent droughts
* 6.1 2010 drought
Desertification and soil loss
* 8 See also
* 9 References
* 10 Sources
* 11 Further reading
* 12 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
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 north.
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
Acacia senegal _ and _
Acacia laeta _. Other tree species include
Commiphora africana _, _
Balanites aegyptiaca _, _
Faidherbia albida _,
Boscia senegalensis _. In the northern part of the Sahel, areas
of desert shrub, including _
Panicum turgidum _ and _
_, alternate with areas of grassland and savanna. During the long dry
season, many trees lose their leaves and the predominantly annual
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
_(Lycaon pictus)_, the
Northwest African cheetah _(Acinonyx jubatus
Northeast African cheetah _(Acinonyx jubatus
West African lion _(Panthera leo senegalensis)_
East African lion _(Panthera leo nubica)_. 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 .
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
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;
Mali has near
3,385 hours of sunshine;
Mali has 3,409 sunny hours, and
Chad has 3,205 hours of sunlight.
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.
In Western Sahel, polygamy and child marriage are common. Female
genital mutilation is also practiced across the Sahel.
Wahhabism is taking root across the Sahel, according to author Joshua
The first instances of domestication of plants for agricultural
Africa occurred in the
Sahel region circa 5000 BC, when
sorghum and African rice began to be cultivated. Around this time
small guineafowl were domesticated in the region.
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
Sahelian kingdoms Further information: Trans-Saharan
trade and Islamization of the
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
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
Chad was added in 1900 as part of French
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 in 1820.
It came under British administration as part of the Sultanate of Egypt
in 1914. The Sudanese
Sahel became part of independent
Sudan in 1956,
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
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
Bilma hit 48.2 °C (118.8 °F). The hottest temperature
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
Niger , and in northern
20 people reportedly died of dehydration by 27 July.
DESERTIFICATION AND SOIL LOSS
Over-farming, over-grazing, over-population of marginal lands, and
natural soil erosion , have caused serious desertification of the
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,
Guinea , and inland
Sierra Leone . Another struck in
Algeria , inland Mauritania, Mali, and northern
at the same time.
Community of Sahel-Saharan States
* Epidemiology of Meningitis
2010 Sahel famine
Pan Sahel Initiative
Sahara Conservation Fund
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* ^ The "
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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 and North
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 21, 2013
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