In the heart of Western Sahara, a former garrison town has become an unlikely tourist magnet after kitesurfers discovered the windswept desert coast was perfect for their sport.
In Dakhla, an Atlantic seaport town punctuated with military buildings in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, swarms of kitesurfers now sail in the lagoon daily.
“Here there is nothing other than sun, wind and waves. We turned the adversity of the elements to our advantage: that’s the very principle of kitesurfing,” said Rachid Roussafi.
After an international career in windsurfing and kitesurfing, Roussafi founded the first tourist camp at the lagoon at the start of the 2000s.
“At the time, a single flight a week landed in Dakhla,” the 49-year-old Moroccan said.
Today, there are 25 a week, including direct flights to Europe.
“Dakhla has become a world destination for kitesurfing,” said Mohamed Cherif, a regional politician.
Tourist numbers have jumped from 25,000 in 2010 to 100,000 today, he said, adding they hoped to reach 200,000 annual visitors.
The former Spanish garrison is booming today with the visitor influx adding to fishing and trade revenue.
Kitesurfing requires pricey gear — including a board, harness and kite — and the niche tourism spot attracts well-off visitors of all nationalities.
Peyo Camillade came from France “to extend the summer season”, with a week’s holiday costing about 1,500 euros ($1,660).
Only the names of certain sites, like PK 25 (kilometre point 25), ruined forts in the dunes and the imposing and still in-use military buildings in Dakhla, remind tourists of the region’s history of conflict.
In the 1970s, Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, and fought a war with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed.
Without waiting for the political compromise that the UN has been negotiating for decades, hotels have sprouted from the sand along the coast, and rows of streetlights on vacant lots announce future subdivisions.
‘Good communication’ –
“The secret to success is to develop kitesurfing with good communication focused on the organisation of non-political events,” said Driss Senoussi, head of the Dakhla Attitude hotel group.
Accordingly, the exploits of kitesurfing champions like Brazilian Mikaili Sol and the Cape Verdian Airton Cozzolino were widely shared online during the World Kiteboarding Championships in Dakhla last month.
The competition seemed to hold little interest for Dakhla’s inhabitants however.
Only a few young people with nothing to do and strolling families found themselves on the beach for the finals.
Just as rare are the foreign tourists who venture into the town of 100,000 residents to shop.
Like her friends, Alexandra Paterek prefers to stay at her hotel, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from downtown.
“Here is the best place in the world for learning kitesurfing,” said the 31-year-old Polish stewardess.
On her understanding of the broader regional context, she said: “It’s an old Spanish colony and they have good seafood, for sure.”
Like many tourists, she was under the impression that the area belonged to Morocco, as the destination tends to be marketed in the travel industry as “Dakhla, Morocco”.
That angers the Polisario, which wants independence for the disputed region and tried last year in vain to sue businesses it said were “accomplices to the occupying military power.”
The independence movement is now focused on challenging commercial deals between Morocco and the European Union that involve Western Sahara, according to the group’s French lawyer Gilles Devers.
Moroccan authorities are looking actively for investors for their development projects on the west coast, the most ambitious being the Dakhla Atlantique megaport with a budget of about $1 billion to promote fishing.
Environmental concerns –
On the lagoon, surrounded by white sand and with its holiday bungalows, “there is a struggle between developing aquaculture and tourism,” said a senior regional representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“One has less impact on the environment, but the other generates more revenue and jobs,” said the representative, adding that “pressure from real-estate investors is very high.”
With the influx of tourists, the protection of the environment has become a major concern.
“Everything is developing so quickly… we need to recycle plastic waste and resolve the issue of wastewater,” said Rachid Roussafi.
Daniel Bellocq, a retired French doctor, worries for the future of this lagoon, that was “once so wild” that he has kitesurfed in for 20 years.
“There is green algae that weren’t there before, it’s becoming a septic tank,” he said.
Regional councillor Cherif, though, insists the bay is clean, saying: “All the hotels are equipped with wastewater management systems.”
For him, the real threat is from plastic waste, whether it is dropped by tourists or brought by sea currents.
DR Congo rainforest attacked on all sides
Lush rainforest covers millions of hectares of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a central part of Earth’s natural defence against global warming — but it is under severe threat from a perfect storm of mismanagement.
An array of global and local NGOs are in a tense fight to save the rainforest, which lost an area twice the size of Luxembourg last year alone, according to Global Forest Watch.
But the problems run right through DR Congo society — from the poor who rely on charcoal for fuel in a country with meagre supplies of other power, to the senior officials who profit from illegal logging.
“There are lawmakers and soldiers involved. They don’t pay taxes — it’s unfair competition,” says Felicien Liofo, head of a wood craftsmen’s association.
Local police say soldiers simply rip apart the fences around the forest and threaten to shoot anyone who tries to stop them.
– NGOs fight back
The government faces a daunting challenge to protect the rainforest.
Its 2002 forestry code imposed a moratorium on new concessions and regulated the number of trees that could be chopped down under existing permits, but officials complain of a lack of resources.
Felicien Malu, a provincial environment coordinator, has roughly 1,200 workers to cover a province twice the size of Portugal.
But his staff, he says, are not paid and lack even the basic tools of their trade — boats, motorcycles or pickup trucks.
“We can’t organise control missions because there are many rivers to cross and unpaved roads,” he says.
His predecessor in the job was suspended for embezzlement, underlining how corruption feeds the problem of deforestation.
NGOs have launched a multi-pronged attack against the plunder.
Greenpeace Africa and a coalition of eight NGOs from DRC and neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville have demanded a halt to all industrial activities in the millions of hectares of peatland shared by the two countries.
The ancient wetlands store huge amounts of carbon, but companies are involved in oil exploration, logging and industrial agriculture in the area.
Global Witness investigated the illegal logging trade and earlier this year accused a general in the Congolese army of illegally reselling logging permits.
However, electricity in DRC is a rare luxury, meaning that most Congolese still rely on charcoal as their main fuel supply.
Making charcoal involves chopping down trees and slow-burning the wood in covered ovens — all of which comes at a steep price for the environment.
“I get through a $30 sackful every two months. That’s a fair chunk of what I earn,” says Solange Sekera while shopping at a market in the eastern city of Goma. “We have no other means of preparing meals.”
Our forests may disappear’ –
The charcoal trade — known locally as Makala — is worth millions of dollars and it is attracting armed groups to the Goma area, threatening Virunga natural park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas.
More than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) to the west, the reliance on charcoal in Kinshasa is also causing severe problems.
Kinshasa residents consume five million tonnes of wood a year, according to French research group Cirad, and increasing urbanisation is just raising the pressure on the forests.
On the hillsides around the capital, there are scarcely any trees left.
NGOs and the government are once again trying to respond.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is trying to minimise the impact of charcoal burning by introducing “eco makala” ovens that burn the fuel more efficiently and so use less wood.
And President Felix Tshisekedi is trying to boost electricity across the country to reduce demand for wood-based fuel.
He has championed hydroelectric power — and ground was broken in early October on a new dam in Goma.
NGOs and locals are not convinced of the viability of the project, but Tshisekedi is adamant: “Given the current rate of population growth and our energy needs, our forests may disappear by the year 2100,” he says.
Tropical storm to hit Somalia
Somalia has been hit by floods since October 2019.
A tropical storm is currently brewing over the western part of the Indian Ocean and is moving westward towards Somalia. It is expected to make landfall on 7 December 2019. A forecast issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Somali Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) on Tuesday has warned of heavy rainfall and strong winds over the north and central parts of the Horn of Africa country.
Rain in excess of 100mm is expected in the coastal areas of Saanag, Bari, Nugaal and Mudug regions. FAO has advised those in line of Tropical Storm 06A to take necessary precautions against flash floods and heavy rainfall in the coming days.
Somalia has been hit by floods since October 2019. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 370,000 people have been displaced and even more are in dire need of relief and assistance.
“It is a race against time; but while we must work with authorities to meet today’s needs, it is urgent that we also focus on long-term, durable solutions. Given the increasing impact climate change is having on Somalia, the challenges are only likely to become more frequent and more severe,” said Justin Brady, Head of OCHA Somalia.
The Eastern and Central African regions have paid a heavy toll for global warming and are experiencing unusually heavy rainfall and floods: These, in turn, have caused flash floods, landslides, the destruction of properties and crops, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and fatalities in the hundreds.
OCHA places the number of those impacted by the adverse weather conditions at 2.5 million. Kenya has recorded the highest number of fatalities at 250 as a result of the floods, with the heaviest hit counties being Wajir and West Pokot.
Djibouti, on the other hand, is grappling with adverse weather conditions and flooding after two years’ worth of rain fell in a single day. Loss of life, property and/or displacements have been registered further afield in Tanzania, Burundi, CAR, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Western Sahara, desert nomads are rearing an age-long passion for camel herding
In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodising about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.
‘Tribes are tribes’ –
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighbouring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 per cent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favours loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organisation,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds”.
‘Eight-time champion’ –
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometres (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays”, Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometres (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price”, but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.
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