Between 2200 B.C. and 1900 B.C., the Habur Plains of northern Mesopotamia turned to desert. Evidence exists 3000 years ago Sahara desert was a grassland where cattle were grazing. Under business-as-usual scenario, Ethiopia, too, is on a path to ecological collapse. The first home to Homo sapiens is losing its forest cover, water resources and biodiversity glory at an alarming rate.

Deforestation in Ethiopia is a single most eco-disaster that has led to a chain of events threatening the survival of the nation. Removal of vegetation has created barren mountains, rolling hills and plains that have close similarity with the surface of the moon. Devoid of vegetation, they have lost their photosynthetic power and thus contribute nothing to the flow of energy and biomass production in the ecosystem. This translates to a rate of soil erosion that exceeds the rate of soil formation. An estimated two billion tones of annual soil loss is known to occur, the second worst ecological disaster next to Haiti.

Can this ecological catastrophe be averted? The answer depends on the choices we made; to act or not to act. There are anecdotal examples that even unilateral actions taken by a small segment of the society can make a difference. Ethiopian Orthodox Church, for instance, preserved its forests that can be discerned from Google map as green dots surrounded by a barren landscape. Konso people have maintained productive agro ecosystems for more than 3000 years. I learned the relationship between clear nights and frost damage of crops from my parents who did not attend formal school long before I studied radiation balance and Rayleigh scattering.

After reviewing more than 150 literature sources on Ethiopia’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems I made the following generalization: Ecological disaster facing present day Ethiopia is not a function of knowledge gap; it is largely a consequence of the gap between action and inaction.

Worku Mulat (PhD)
Associated Professor of Environmental Science
Research associate, Tree Foundation