Algeria is Africa’s second-largest country. Only 3% of its land area is arable, while 85% is made up of the Sahara Desert. To the north, the Atlas Mountains fringe 1,000 km of Mediterranean coastline, where 80% of Algeria’s 33.8 million inhabitants are to be found, while the Ahaggar Mountains dominate landscapes to the south. Algeria is the world’s twelfth-largest oil producer and second-largest natural gas exporter. Other natural resources include iron, phosphate, uranium, lead, and zinc.
Desertification: Algeria has a land area of 238 million ha. Stripping out the 200 million ha covered by the Sahara, 20 million ha are affected by desertification and a further 12 million by water erosion. In western Algeria, 74% of the province (wilayah) of Naama is affected by desertification, while in the south, the province of Adrar combats encroaching sands by planting trees along the base, and palm trees along the top, of sand dunes.
Water: the world’s largest desalination plant is being built near Oran and will supply drinking water to over 5 million households. In the north of the country, many dams grapple with severe silting.
Deforestation: over the past 150 years, Algeria’s forests have diminished by 5 million ha and now make up a mere 1.5% of the country’s land area.
Pollution: water quality in the El Harrach district leaves much to be desired, with toxicity 400 times over WHO safety levels. A veritable cocktail of mercury, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, cadmium and chrome also threatens the ports of Arzew and Bethioua.
Protected areas: Tassili n’Ajjer National Park in the south, of great scenic and geological interest, features an outstanding collection of prehistoric cave art. El Kala National Park, encompassing wetlands in the east and home to a third of North Africa’s plant life, is threatened by the proposed construction of an East-West highway.
H.E. Cherif Rahmani, Minister of the Environment and President of the World Deserts Foundation (Fondation Déserts du Monde), received a UNEP “Champion of the Earth” award in 2007. Various laws have been passed to help Algeria catch up with other countries environmentally. The Ministry organised a car-free day on May 16, 2008.
The goal of the national volunteer association Touiza (Algeria) is to conserve water resources and ancestral know-how, especially in the oases. The association has carried out projects in four oases of Adrar province, aiming to restore the foggaras (shafts carved out of bedrock for irrigation purposes, also known as qanats) in order to divert groundwater to the oases. Along with the UNESCO-MAB program, Touiza designed an educational kit to further the fight against desertification.
The Clean up the Med campaign involved several Algerian associations, such as Découverte de la nature, in cleanup of the coastline.
The bi-monthly magazine Echo de l’environnement algérien was launched in 2005. The magazine aims to raise awareness among regional players and involve them in finding better solutions to ensure a healthier future for coming generations.
The Mouvement Écologique Algérien (MEA) addresses pollution, reforestation, desertification, and recycling, as well as campaigning for the expected re-opening of the Hamma Garden in Algiers (80 ha), the immense botanical garden where the first Tarzan movie was filmed.