North Africa: Adrar issues exposed as Sahara desert heats up
The people of Algeria’s second province feel the heat in many ways, whether in their homes, classrooms or when they dare to go outside.
This latest installment in New Frame’s three-part series on the impact of climate change in Algeria focuses on the province of Adrar. Despite being blessed with natural resources such as gas and oil and its agriculture thriving, the region gets so hot in the summer that life stops. And the temperatures keep rising.
The Sahara Desert is synonymous with Algeria. It covers more than 80% of its national territory and is responsible for the production of most of its wealth through agriculture, natural gas and crude oil. The populations who live in the most remote corners of the desert and who need help the most remain paradoxically the most marginalized.
Nowhere is this more true than in the province of Adrar, where it is not uncommon for temperatures to exceed 50 Â° C during the hellish summer months. Local meteorologists have even traced what they call the “fire triangle” between the provincial towns of Adrar and Reggane, and the town of In Salah, about 280 km away. The province, which covers 424,948 km2 at the southwestern end of the Algerian Sahara, is located in one of the hottest regions in the world.
It is obvious that things are bleak when Mother Nature’s standard bearer commits suicide. Residents of Adrar say a number of crows have been killed in the province. Zoologists around the world have yet to determine whether the birds are capable of willful suicide, but eyewitnesses torpedoed them directly into the ground. Preliminary theories say the phenomenon could occur due to dehydration, or perhaps the crows are fooled by a mirage. But this is further proof that the summer months in Adrar are difficult for any living thing.
Warmer more often
According to climatology experts, the effects of climate change are only worsening the already difficult living conditions in Adrar. Abdelkader Laaboudi, director of the experimental station of the Algerian National Institute of Agronomic Research in Adrar, says that scorching temperatures are observed more often. âWe have recorded temperatures of around 49 Â° C during the summer since the 1940s, but it was very infrequent – maybe one or two days a month. In recent years, it is the number of days per month where [such] Maximum temperatures are recorded which are increasing. “
The station recorded the minimum and maximum temperatures for the province of Adrar between 1980 and 2017. Between 1980 and 2000, the average minimum temperature for January was -0.18 Â° C, rising to 1.77 Â° C between 2000 and 2017. The average maximum temperature in July has also increased. half a degree centigrade during these same periods.
In 2018, Adrar went viral in Algerian cyberspace when a Facebook photo emerged of a resident stepping out in the sun and photographing a thermometer, which showed it was 65 Â° C. If this had been corroborated, the reading would have set a world record, but standard measurement conditions state that temperature gauges should be protected from the sun. On July 8, 2018, it was 54 Â° C in Adrar, a new national record for Algeria.
Effects on education
After eight years of teaching in the province of Adrar, Leila Assas decided to settle in the capital Algiers to instead embark on social entrepreneurship. The native of Oran worked in the small village of Azgar, 70 km from the picturesque oasis of Timimoun. She was in search of adventure when she first arrived in Azgar, and was very surprised when she managed to find a job as a French teacher in an elementary school. Many areas of the south of the Sahara lack teachers in language schools, and the government even supplements salaries with large bonuses to attract qualified candidates.
Assas says Azgar is located in a rural area “where the people live with the seasons.” She too quickly began to understand how climate change interfered with her work. âI watched climate change when sandstorms occurred more often and became more and more unpredictable,â she said. “The severity of the problem really struck me when I saw how shocked the older ladies in the village were because it is not good for the harvest.”
Apart from agriculture, education has been the most affected by climate change. The province of Adrar has historically recorded the lowest literacy rates in Algeria. In the most recent census, which took place in 2008, 19.2% of men had never received formal education and 34.9% of women had never been to school. As a result, 26.3% of the population is illiterate, according to the National Statistics Office.
Assas says bad government decisions contribute to these low literacy rates. Since education is managed from the capital, the impact of hot weather in remote places such as Azgar is not taken into account. âEverything is centralized in Algiers, so we start the school year at the same time as everyone else in the country,â Assas explained.
âSchool usually starts the first week of September. It’s very, very hot here during the first week of September. Some children get sick or have nosebleeds or pass out. The situation is not viable so we start. school at 6.30 am and do half-days for a few weeks, even if it is done without permission. Everyone is tired, but we make up for lost time throughout the year. “
The end of the year is as problematic as the start, says Assas. âWe are practically finishing the school year at the end of April. The first year, I was shocked, but then I realized that we were waiting for laws in accordance with our specific conditions. We end the school year two months early, although we officially log off on July 4th like everyone else. “
Cities can’t stand the heat
A longtime resident of Adrar, Mustapha Abdelhak, says poor planning and inadequate infrastructure exacerbate the problems associated with such heat. “There is no town planning”, explains the father of three children. âBefore, we had small spaces between housing projects where there were drafts, but everything gets cluttered. For example, the neighbor in front of our house built a second story and blocked the wind from the north. Then we built a third floor and blocked the neighbor behind us. “
By some estimates, the province’s population has more than doubled since the 1990s, and subsequent urban planning prioritized a housing crisis over smart urban design. âWhen I first moved to Adrar in 1988, we didn’t turn on the air conditioning until the end of May. Today, we are putting it into operation from the beginning of May, âsaid Abdelhak.
Assas says the building materials used to build the schools are unsuitable for high temperatures. âOur classrooms are not adapted to the heat. They are built with concrete blocks and industrial bricks which heat up quickly. We start to feel the heat in the spring. Sometimes we have three or four air conditioners in a 20m2 classroom and that’s still not enough. “
Another problem in Adrar is that transportation is unreliable, which is particularly problematic for students who travel long distances to school. It is not uncommon for a student in Adrar to travel up to 30 km per day for secondary or higher education. âThe school buses are very, very old. When they got there, some of my students were laughing out loud at the gruesome sounds they were making,â Assas said.
Although Algeria has made undeniable progress in increasing the literacy rates of its population since independence in 1962, the people of Adrar believe that the government of Algiers must begin to take into account the effects of climate change when making education decisions. The same goes for much of the planning that affects their living conditions.