Perspectives from West Africa on Wetlands and Urbanization

Perspectives from West Africa on Wetlands and Urbanization
November 1, 2018 1:56 pm News

There is no denying the recent spike in urbanization across the coast of West Africa: about 70% of urban and economic centers in the region can now be found along the coast. The growing populations put a tremendous amount of pressure on natural resources in the area, and the impacts are expected to be intensified by the ongoing urbanization, development, port expansions all along the coast and, in some cases, even tourism development. While this coastal growth and expansion is reflective of global trends linked to migration and trade, it must without question be managed in a way that balances growth and prosperity with the conservation of nature. If not the economic and social benefits will be fleeting as natural buffers are literally burned, hauled or washed away.

To discuss actions to address these challenges the Abidjan Convention and the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Program (WA BiCC) hosted a side event at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention on October 26th. The event, titled Perspectives from West Africa on Wetlands and Urbanization, sought to share lessons, experiences and practices from three years of collaboration including work in the field. The Executive Secretary of the Abidjan Convention, Abou Bamba, facilitated the event, leading a panel made up of WA BiCC’s Coastal Resilience and Adaptation and Biodiversity Conservation Specialists, and the Director of the Regional Partnership for Coastal and Marine Conservation (PRCM), Ahmed Senhoury.

This side event was an opportunity to illustrate how WA BiCC is implementing the USAID/West Africa Theory of Change (ToC)—to identify, inform, and make explicit linkages between research, practice and policy in natural resources management across and between different scales ranging from local to national to landscape to regional. This approach underpins WA BiCC’s activities and is central to its knowledge management and learning approach.

At the start of the event Anada Tiega, WA BiCC’s Coastal Resilience and Adaptation Specialist, gave an overview of this integrated approach to issues facing upland forests and wetlands, focusing on livelihood challenges in these areas. He established the need for collaboration with regional partners like ECOWAS and the Abidjan Convention. Anada also explained how WA BiCC’s Situation Model 1) applies to the Abidjan Convention Protocols, 2) captures the complexity of interactions between all WA BiCC components, and 3) highlights the need to generate, identify, and effectively communicate lessons learned to influence sustainable change.

Using the Objectives of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Protocol of the Abidjan Convention, Anada mapped out key regional and national processes and actors working in partnership with WA BiCC that are important for the implementation of global agenda with respect to the United Nation General Assembly’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). WA BiCC’s work directly contributes to SDGs 3, 6, 11, 14 and 17 being, respectfully; Good Health and Wellbeing, Clean Water and Sanitation, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Life Below Water and Partnerships to Achieve the Goal.

Dr. Tiega spoke about WA BiCC’s support to the Abidjan Convention Protocols on Integrated Coastal Zone Management and the Sustainable Management of Mangroves, and how these add value to planned and ongoing programs and processes seeking  sustainable approaches and solutions to the challenges of coastal urbanization.

Michael Balinga, WA BiCC’s Biodiversity Conservation Specialist, introduced the Abidjan Aquatic Wildlife Partnership as an example of how collaborative partnerships can do more together than working in isolation given the scale of the challenges. The Partnership is a collaboration between the Abidjan Convention, OceanCare, Wild Migration and WA BiCC. Its aim is to employ a coordinated approach to conserving threatened and endangered aquatic species, of which there are 41 in West Africa alone. Urbanization adds to the threats these species face by reducing or totally destroying shrinking habitats and spawning areas, and making the species more vulnerable to poachers who seek to traffic several of these species or their parts, such as sea turtles, in the international market. The lack of capacity to enforce what are often viable protective policies is a key part of the species’ decline. In other instances, these policies need to be developed or strengthened and ensure enforcement protocols are strictly applied. To this end, one of the key mandates of the partnership is to increase regional and institutional capacity to address threats to aquatic species and their habits, and to raise awareness about these issues while offering practical if challenging solutions.

Michael stated, “We need to increase the knowledge and awareness of the public and local communities on the status of these species and the fact that they are protected by law. We need to work with them to determine sustainable practices and alternatives. Most of all, we need to increase the resources available to strengthen the resilience of these coastal communities.”

Zebedee Njisuh, Manager of WA BiCC Sierra Leone Coastal Landscape Complex, presented experiences drawn from working with coastal communities within landscapes to increase their resilience to the effects of climate change. In addition to looking at how areas can cope with inevitable (and ongoing) impacts, WA BiCC works with communities to mitigate potential impacts through interventions including mangrove restoration, the construction of embankments using locally sourced, readily available materials and agrosilviculture. Coinciding with these interventions are behavior change communications campaigns to raise awareness among community members who can positively influence change and the adoption of more effective practices adapted to today’s changing climate.

The Director of the Regional Partnership for Coastal and Marine Conservation (PRCM), Ahmed Senhoury, shared highlights from PRCM’s work and collaboration with WA BiCC and the Abidjan Convention. He explained how PRCM has been working with WA BiCC and the Abidjan Convention to develop an integrated approach to coastal zone management, sharing insights on how their Mangrove Charter was fundamental to the development of the new Protocol for the Sustainable Management of Mangroves advanced by the Abidjan Convention.

Following the presentations, an informative and constructive debate ensued, with comments and questions raised by the representatives of the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gabon, Morocco, and IUCN among others.  The recommendations made include:

  • Establishing a central mechanism for collecting, storing, and disseminating key information to support collective action on the conservation and sustainable use of inland wetlands with their watersheds, coastal, and marine resources for the benefits of people. This mechanism could be established through finalizing and operationalizing the Resource Center of the Abidjan Convention.
  • Using existing mechanisms under the Ramsar Convention, such as “City Accreditation”, to recognize and encourage sound urban planning that supports both urban development and environmental conservation. This mechanism provides positive branding opportunities for cities that demonstrate strong and positive relationships with urban and peri-urban wetlands.
  • Encouraging the Abidjan Convention and the Ramsar Convention to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to support their mutual interests and encourage their Contracting Parties to implement both conventions.

Overall, the event proved highly interactive, with participants asking questions and sharing their views and experiences on the issues and generating further enthusiasm for collaborative work on practices and policies that will foster the co-existence of urban centers and the conservation and sustainable management of the ecological and environmental functions and services required for survival.

Here are some thoughts of participants after the event.