Malian villagers battle sands after lake dries

This was once one of the largest lakes in West Africa - Lake Fauibine.

But since it has completely dried up, communities in northern Mali have had to defend their homes from encroaching sand dunes.

And find new ways to scratch a living from the degraded soil.

More than 200,000 people have had to abandon their traditional livelihoods since the river started to disappear following catastrophic droughts in the 1970s.

Abdul Karin Ag Al Hassane is a farmer-turned-herder.

“All this area was covered by water, then the water receded and trees started to grow around the lake, then the trees started to disappear and people grew crops where the trees used to be. During the first rebellion, displaced persons arrived. They destroyed the forest. And once the forest was gone, sand dunes formed."

Other farmers like Mahamadou Ousmane say tensions are high between livestock herders and other farmers over the little fertile land and water available.

He said regular disputes have led to rising levels of crime.

“After we’ve harvested our produce we have to transport it, and that’s dangerous. Even the women you see behind me are at risk. Their maize may be stolen on the way.”

Many have left the area due to the lack of economic opportunities in the area.

Former farmer Moussa Mouhamadou Toure said his family survives on what his son sends home from the capital Bamako.

The shrinking population of Lake Faguibine is set to come under further pressure from climate change.

The U.N. climate body said average temperatures in northern Mali are expected to rise up to 4.7 degree Celsius - that's an increase of over 40 degree Fahrenheit.

There were efforts to boost resilience by restoring Faguibine's wetlands, hoping to make the area the breadbasket of the Timbuktu region.

But that has been derailed by waves of conflict, including the most recent Islamist insurgency, according to a 2016 study in the African Journal of Aquatic Science.

In the village of Bintagoungou, the advancing dunes have buried a schoolyard and cracked the empty buildings' foundations.

Hama Abacrene is the mayor of the village:

“This is a school for almost 400 students. 400 students. That’s an entire generation. A lost generation, a generation condemned to flee. Or be recruited."

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