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West African Nations Unite to Build Coastal Resilience to Climate Change

An important movement is afoot to build resilience along West Africa’s coast, where more than 30 million people live and depend on coastal resources for their livelihoods and food security.

In June, government officials from 11 West African nations travelled to Accra, Ghana to kick off a regional coordination effort as they develop national plans to reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Panel discussion with representatives from Ghana, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire. Photo credit: Pam Rubinoff

The coastal region is the economic engine of West Africa, generating much of the region’s GDP through agriculture, fisheries, tourism, and industry, and providing critical infrastructure for trade with the poorer Sahel region to the north.

But West Africa’s coastal areas face multiple climate change impacts – such as more frequent and intense droughts, floods, and storms, as well as sea level rise – in the coming decades.

ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, hosted the kick-off event with USAID to encourage governments to take a shared approach to coastal issues as they create National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) under the UN climate change process.

Ghana’s Deputy Environment Minister, Bernice Heloo, opened the event by reminding officials that all nations will face climate change together. “Many African countries, including Ghana, are struggling to cope with current climate variability and change.”

Ibila Djibril, Benin’s focal point for National Adaptation Plans in the UN climate process, stressed the links between climate and development. “What is at stake here is not just the environment… but the whole process of development. A country cannot truly develop itself when climate change jeopardizes national efforts,” he said.

So what was accomplished in Accra? Participants learned to use a new approach, pioneered by USAID in Jamaica and Tanzania, to think through the initial stages of NAP development strategically. They also shared experiences with coastal development and adaptation planning through discussion and peer-to-peer learning.

But most important, a regional action plan was drafted to promote better coordination of transboundary and regional efforts in coming months. Regional institutions like ECOWAS, it was agreed, can play a key role in helping countries to access climate information and to take coordinated action around critical issues, like planning coastal infrastructure and managing coastal forests, watersheds and other shared natural resources.

Ms. Heloo, Ghana’s Deputy Environment Minister, was just one of the officials to explicitly recognize the importance of working together to build coastal climate resilience in West Africa.

“I am glad this workshop will seek to agree on an approach toward preparing a regional development strategy to address the complexities of the coastal zone,” she said. “The impacts of climate change on the coastal areas and coastal development can be devastating.”

The 11 West African countries were Benin, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. ECOWAS works to promote cooperation in the region on a range of economic and political issues.

USAID in the News

A publication in the Middle East’s AmeInfo, writes of a dialogue hosted by USAID’s Youth for Future Project. This session showcased success stories and firsthand experiences from several Youth Entrepreneurship Project beneficiaries, and concluded with a Q & A segment and the dissemination of the final report on the Project.

Administrator Rajiv Shah and Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo Credit: Pat Adams, USAID

The New York Times mentioned “a new loan-guarantee program by [USAID] intended to generate…$100 million in private financing to develop clean-energy technologies” in a piece on President Obama’s speech on climate change at Georgetown University in late June. Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement  during a recent visit to New Delhi. “The good news is that if we do this right, it’s not going to hurt our economies,” Mr. Kerry said. “It actually helps them. It won’t deny our children opportunity; it will actually create new ones.”

The Power of Energy in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan, the world’s largest landlocked country and a former Soviet nation, is rich in natural resources and pursuing an ambitious agenda in response to global climate change. With a growing economy and booming oil and gas sectors, Kazakhstan is committed to improving its energy efficiency. Kazakhstan 2030, the country’s long-term strategy for development, aims to reduce its energy intensity 25 percent by 2020.

Kazakhstan’s most energy-intensive companies attend hands-on energy management workshops on energy efficiency. Photo credit: ICF International

President Obama’s Global Climate Change Initiative provides a unique opportunity for USAID to engage with Kazakhstan directly and assist its people in reaching their goals. Through the Central Asia Energy Efficiency Support Program, USAID is helping industries in Kazakhstan comply with energy laws and implement the ISO-50001 standard: a series of requirements created by the International Organization for Standardization for an energy management system. The ISO-50001 standard provides ways to increase energy efficiency, reduce costs and improve energy performance. USAID gathered Kazakhstan’s largest energy-intensive enterprises, government officials and educational institutions in Astana on June 20, 2013, to exchange ideas on best practices of energy audits and energy resources management.

Galina Markilova, the head of the Standards Department for KazPhosphate, a large phosphate mining and processing company, reflected on the event. “This was a very productive conference, based on the specific needs of our industries. We learned a lot and will be able to better implement our energy management system with what we learned today.” Program experts conducted an energy management audit of KazPhosphate in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy/Oak Ridge National Laboratory and identified more than $1 million in potential annual energy cost savings that could be achieved. Payback periods for all measures identified were less than three years.

Despite the grave and complex nature of climate change, it is inspiring to see global plans coming to life in practical ways across Kazakhstan. The city of Aksu, located in northern Kazakhstan and home to a coal power plant with some of the highest carbon dioxide emissions in the country, is in the initial phase of adopting a clean energy plan. USAID is working closely with the local government to provide training on energy management and auditing for municipal buildings, including schools and hospitals. In a consultation with the Energy and Communal Services in the Pavlodar region, Department Chief Mr. Nurlan Mashrapov shared how these green energy changes are going to impact local lives. “We want our kids to grow up in a city with clean air and green industry. We’re grateful for the help from USAID to teach us how to implement energy efficiency in our public buildings.”

In a further effort to support sustainable and innovative approaches to carbon reduction, Kazakhstan’s Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, Marlen Iskakov, and representatives of the U.S. Government, including Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Fairfax, and USAID Regional Mission Director Anne Aarnes, formalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on June 25, 2013. The MOU signified an agreement to work together on an Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategy, a long-term development plan to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. This was a groundbreaking milestone in Kazakhstan’s commitment to climate resiliency and a significant event as our countries collaborate to ensure a sustainable response to climate change.

Water: A Unifying Issue: USAID’s New Global Water Strategy

Chris Holmes serves as USAID’s Global Water Coordinator.

In late May, when USAID launched its first global water strategy, Administrator Shah, Democrats and Republicans alike agreed on the message: solving the water and sanitation crises is critical. The goal of the USAID Water and Development Strategy is to save lives and improve development in a world where practically 800 million people are without adequate water and 2.5 billion people are without access to adequate sanitation. To achieve its goal, the strategy sets out two overarching strategic objectives: improve global health and strengthen global food security through USAID-supported water programs.

Partnering with faith-based and community organizations—as well as other stakeholders – is critical to meeting these objectives. It is through partnerships that we combine the resources, expertise and wisdom necessary to meet the needs of literally billions of people.

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call hosted by Ms. Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Participants on the call included WASH Advocates, Blood: Water Mission, the Millennium Water Alliance, EROD, PATH, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, World Vision, International Orthodox Christian Charities, Episcopal Relief and Development, Catholic Relief Services, Engineering Ministries International and Lifewater International.  During our call, we covered a wide range of activities—partnerships— to save and improve lives.  One participant noted that it was exciting to see the strategy’s emphasis on women, in particular engaging women in WASH programming and leadership as well as focusing the strategy on countries and regions where we can have greatest impact.  Others on the call addressed such matters as watershed management, evaluation, and the impact on NGOs of channeling development resources through national governments.

Regarding country focus, we discussed how the strategy advances activities consistent with the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 such as establishing criteria to designate high-priority countries for increased investments to support access to safe water and sanitation. We are designing criteria that designate which countries will receive water and sanitation funding. The criteria are based on a combination of factors, such as high childhood mortality rates due to diarrhea, and the capacity of governments to manage and sustain effective programs. Ethiopia is an example of a country that could meet the criteria. It has the requisite infrastructure, governance and institutional experience for USAID water programs that have a transformative impact.

Turning to engaging women in our water programs, we addressed the USAID-supported Somalia School Environment and Education Development Program (SEEDS) which plays an important role in providing water, sanitation and privacy needed to help keep young women in schools, as well as the Afghanistan Sustainable Water Supply and Sanitation Project (SWSS) where USAID is building the capacity of the Afghan government and local communities to provide potable water and sanitation facilities and to improve hygiene behavior. An important component of this program is to engage women in the delivery of training.

We also talked about the importance of setting and meeting specific targets. The strategy sets targets for a minimum number of people to be reached over five years: 10 million with sustainable water services and 6 million with sustainable sanitation services. The strategy emphasizes the need for increased investments and expanded attention to sanitation to translate into broader health and economic benefits. In Ethiopia, the USAID- supported Hygiene Improvement program (PDF) facilitated the implementation of the Government’s National Hygiene and Sanitation strategy. More than 5.8 million people in the Amhara region have been reached by hygiene and sanitation promotion activities, and an estimated 2.8 million people have stopped the practice of open defecation and now use a basic pit latrine.

In order to meet our objectives, the strategy relies on partnerships, innovation, and sustainable approaches. An example of USAID’s focus on innovation in the WASH sector is the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV). Through WASH for Life, our partnership with the Gates Foundation, DIV is testing and scaling promising, cost-effective solutions in water, sanitation, and hygiene. DIV recently announced its biggest award yet to the Dispensers for Safe Water program. This approach seeks to scale safe drinking water to more than 5 million, including 1.6 million children, over the next three years. Ensuring long-term sustainability of water and sanitation infrastructure interventions is a central component of the strategy.

Clearly, faith-based and community organizations and our other partners play such a critical role in meeting the needs of millions of people. As was the case in our conference call , we learn a great deal from our partners. In this regard, I would also like to thank USAID’s Office of Faith Based Community Initiatives for its role in linking faith-based and community organizations with USAID’s global water related efforts.

How Better-Trained Farmers are Slowing Brazil’s Deforestation

This originally appeared on the Mercy Corps’ Blog.

In Pará, Brazil, farmers are turning a profit and the government is on track to slow deforestation thanks to local nonprofit Imazon, which got them to work together.

By 2003, Brazil was on the verge of an environmental catastrophe. As its economy expanded, cattle ranchers needed more land to graze their livestock, and few laws prevented them from burning down thousands of square kilometers of untitled land in the Amazon, causing vast environmental damage. In the worst regions, like Pará, widespread poverty meant that stopping deforestation was at the bottom of the government’s list, despite massive efforts by groups like Greenpeace and Imazon.

Imazon has trained Brazilian cattle farmers to use their pastures more efficiently, reducing the need to cut down trees to clear land. Photo credit: Lou Gold/Flickr

A wave of environmental laws passed by the federal government from 2004 to 2008 seemed to complicate things for local governments and economies, even as deforestation rates fell. Many municipal governments couldn’t fully meet government targets under the new regulations but faced economic sanctions if they didn’t. A beef embargo prevented farmers from selling their meat to mainstream supermarket chains like Carrefour and Walmart if their municipality ended up on a blacklist for failing to reduce illegal deforestation to government-mandated levels. The government confiscated herds and sawmills from the law’s offenders. When Paragominas, a municipality in Para where Imazon worked, was placed on the list, 2,300 jobs and all the municipality’s federal agricultural credits disappeared within a year.

Imazon found itself helping save the local economy. It created a training program for the local government to learn how to use satellite technology to track deforestation. Since most of the affected land wasn’t titled, Imazon also helped farmers formalize their land titles and trained them in improved farming techniques, like rotating crops and limiting overgrazing, to make their land more productive and reduce the need to cut down more rainforest.

It worked. Farmers trained in better methods required less land to turn a profit, so they cut down fewer trees.

In just a few years, Imazon’s program in Paragominas helped to reduce illegal deforestation by more than 80 percent. When farmers in Paragominas implemented Imazon’s training techniques, most saw their incomes increase, even as they stopped clearing additional land. Inspired by the success of the program, the state government decided to launch its own Green Municipalities Program in 2011, essentially promoting Imazon’s collaborative approach in Paragominas at a state level. Now, more than 94 of Para State’s 143 municipalities have signed onto the Green Municipalities Program, and both the state government and Imazon are straining to meet the demand.

However, a new breakthrough came when Imazon attracted the attention of the Innovation Investment Alliance (PDF), a new partnership between Mercy Corps, USAID and the Skoll Foundation. This April at the Skoll World Forum, the partners announced their first grant of $3.4 million, complementing an earlier $2.6 million from Skoll. The funding will support Imazon to scale the successes in Paragominas across the state of Para. The project has ambitious goals, as the government has promised to reduce deforestation by 80 percent over the next seven years. By systematizing the training process, the Alliance hopes to leave the state government capable of responding to the growing demand from farmers and municipal governments who have seen Imazon’s programs work in Paragominas.

The question is how Imazon can show their methodologies work. Mercy Corps will help Imazon to test its approach in 10 municipalities serving as guinea pigs, drawing from its own network of experts in impact analysis.

But Imazon’s biggest success may be its ability to get locals on board with its ideas. 94 municipalities have already signed on to reducing deforestation through the Green Municipalities Program, and Cameron Peake, Mercy Corps’s director of social innovations special initiatives, says she’s impressed at how the nonprofit has persuaded the local farmers and government that environmental sustainability, economic growth, land rights and good governance can actually go together.

And that achievement, for one, is too valuable to put a number on.

Increasing Economic Growth without Increasing Emissions

Growth requires energy, and the Philippines, one of Asia’s fastest rising economies, foresees an ever greater need for more energy to maintain the pace of development for its 94 million residents.

Yet increased energy use comes at a cost, in the form of increased greenhouse gas emissions, which puts the country in a conundrum: How can a country continue its economic growth yet make it both equitable and sustainable in the long term?

The Philippines is especially conscious of global warming and climate change. An archipelago of more than 7,107 islands, it is ranked the world’s 10th most vulnerable countries to climate change, with Manila the world’s second most at-risk city. Typhoons batter the country regularly, so the Philippines in particular is keen to avoid the prospect of more extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Eric Postel delivers remarks at a recent meeting with climate change and economy officials from the Philippines, EC-LEDS partners and the Department of State. Photo credit: Caryn Fisher, USAID Asia

Mitigating climate change provides the international community then a chance to at least reduce the risk of such disasters. As the Philippines Deputy Chief of Mission to the United States Minister Maria Andrelita S. Austria said, “The more we work on climate change, the less we’ll need to work on disaster assistance.”

Since 2010, USAID, through efforts such as the Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategies (EC-LEDS) program, has been partnering with countries such as the Philippines to find alternative development pathways that lower greenhouse gas emissions trends and increase the resilience of communities and economies to climate change impacts. These programs are part of the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment to encourage developing economies to move towards a low carbon economic growth pathway, which is integral to long term, sustained development. Under EC-LEDS, the Philippines is partnering with the United States in strategizing on how to enable low emission economic growth.

“This program is an important diplomatic priority for the U.S. government. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern views this as an opportunity to enhance key diplomatic relationships with partner countries, furthering our global goal of limiting temperature increase to no more than two degrees Celsius,” said Assistant Administrator Eric Postel of USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment to a Government of Philippines delegation visiting the United States recently.

The climate change and economy officials from the Philippines met with EC-LEDS partners at USAID and the Department of State, who both lead the program, as well as experts from other U.S. Government interagency partners, think tanks, and industry organizations. 

Greg Beck, USAID’s Asia Bureau Deputy Assistant Administrator, said, “While we in the United States and the Philippines both work together to improve the Philippines’ international competitiveness, it is equally important that the Philippines pursues its economic targets through a low carbon pathway. The United States government is committed to providing the necessary technical assistance in enhancing capacity for low emission strategies.”

For the Philippines, EC-LEDS focuses on three areas: 1) supporting the development of the country’s greenhouse gas inventory, which will help determine where emissions are coming from and provide a baseline to measure any increase or decrease in emissions over time; 2) building the in-country capacity to use analytical tools to choose the most cost-effective actions to reduce emissions; and 3) helping Philippines take actions that address climate change, such as identifying promising sources of renewable energy, improving forest management, and supporting local Eco-Towns.

EC-LEDS builds upon a long history of partnership between the United States and the Philippines, which was solidified when the Philippines was chosen to join three other countries (El Salvador, Ghana and Tanzania) under President Obama’s flagship Partnership for Growth, or PFG. Under the PFG, both governments are working hand-in-hand to address the most serious constraints to economic growth and development in the Philippines.

The partnership theme carries over to EC-LEDS, as the partner countries themselves drive the process. “By design, a LEDS is a country-specific strategic plan to promote climate-resilient economic growth and reduce long-term greenhouse gas emissions trajectories. U.S. support and technical assistance is tailored to those development priorities identified by our partners,” Beck said.

The noteworthy Philippine commitment to this partnership is fueled in part by having seen the lasting devastation climate change can have after weather-related disasters move on. The country’s government created a Climate Change Commission in 2009 after discovering that typhoon-related costs that year amounted to 2.9% of the Philippines’ GDP, according to Mary Ann Lucille Sering, the Commission’s head.

“We believe that the twin goals of economic prosperity and environment protection are achievable and LEDS is the effective mechanism to reach those goals,” said Beck.

Earth Matters Workshop Helps Nepali Journalists Link Environment to Socio-Political Dialogue

Given Nepal’s high vulnerability to climate change, one might expect reporters like Mangal Man Shakya, a veteran investigative journalist and chairman of Nepal’s Wildlife Watch Group, to find great demand for his environmental stories. Unfortunately, that isn’t the always the case.

“It has been a long time since I saw an investigative environmental report in the Nepali media,” Shakya said as he spoke at a recent “Earth Matters Workshop” for journalists in Kathmandu. Although many Nepali leaders recognize the need to take action on environmental issues, the preeminence of political and economic stories often means reporting on climate change and conservation gets buried on page 6. The environmental stories that do get published are typically limited in scope, rather than in-depth and linked to broader political, economic, or health issues.

Recognizing the media’s critical role in raising public awareness and influencing public policy, USAID, in partnership with WWF Nepal, organized a media Earth Day workshop called “Earth Matters,” designed to help journalists understand how environmental issues can be linked to broader socio-political issues in Nepal and produce content with more in-depth analysis. The workshop, organized through the USAID-funded Hariyo Ban (Green Forests) Program, invited Nepali journalists to engage with some of the nation’s top conservation experts, high-ranking policy makers, veteran media professionals, and an award-winning journalist from the United States, in sessions that often took on a press conference format.

Former Parliamentarian and Politician Gagan Thapa joined the “Earth Matters Workshop” to discuss the environmental issues and challenges in the Constituent Assembly and reiterated the important role media plays in raising public awareness and influencing policy discourse and action. Photo credit: Fungma Fudong, USAID Nepal

The 12 participants, selected from a large pool of applicants, shared the common challenges they face not only in accessing resources to pursue environmental reporting, but also in getting buy-in from newsrooms that do not care for, or do not understand, the country’s environmental issues. Such challenges make it even more important for journalists to link environmental stories to political and economic issues, which tend to receive greater coverage.

Speaking at the workshop, former Member of Parliament’s Natural Resources and Means Committee Gagan Thapa reiterated the influence that good reporting can have on policy: “Often, it was the media that brought many issues to our attention,” he said, discussing the relationship between reporters and the Parliament and Constituent Assembly. He added that, with Nepal’s current lack of a Parliament, it is all the more important for environmental reporters to be bold and vigilant.

“Environment issues are at the heart of Nepal’s socio-economic present and future problems and solutions, and it is high time Nepali politics recognizes this,” Kashish Das Shrestha, well-known environmental writer and moderator of the workshop, said. “An informed and responsible media is critical in helping to shape the political discourse accordingly.”

By the end of the workshop, one of the 12 participants had produced a radio show on the devastating effects of mining and deforestation in Nepal’s mid hills for Image FM 97.9, one of Nepal’s largest stations, and also published an article on the story. Another participant had produced a radio report for the Community Information Network, which includes more than 100 community radio stations throughout Nepal. These reports are just few of the bright sparks lit by the workshop.

In the second phase of the workshop, participants will head to the field to conduct research in the areas where Hariyo Ban operates. This interaction with those most affected by environmental issues is expected to inform and expand environmental media coverage. The workshop culminates on World Environment Day, June 5, when all participants—Hariyo Ban Champions—will share the work they have produced based on the workshop and field research.

USAID’s Hariyo Ban program has, since 2011, helped Nepalis prepare for and adapt to climate stresses. Hariyo Ban is a cornerstone of President Obama’s Global Climate Change Initiative in Nepal and is implemented by a consortium led by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Other consortium members include: CARE, the Federation of Community Forestry Users in Nepal, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation.

Young Communicators Promote Climate Change Awareness

In recognition of Earth Week last week, we explore the connections between climate change and the environment we depend on to sustain us. 

Climate change is already impacting life in the Dominican Republic. Hurricanes, flooding, and dramatic changes in weather are all becoming more prevalent and severe. Throughout the country, rainfall is highly variable—in some areas, rain is becoming increasingly more extreme, while in other areas lower rainfall and high temperatures are bringing more prolonged droughts. This is threatening the already shaky livelihoods of farming communities whose soil, crops, and livestock are highly sensitive to the changing climate. In coastal communities, like Samaná, coral reefs and mangrove forests are rapidly being degraded by both climate and non-climate stresses, leaving communities without their natural buffers to protect their precious beaches from erosion and their property from storm surges and flooding.

High schoolers in Samaná, Dominican Republic learn about climate change so they can help educate others in their community, in a USAID mission funded adaptation project. Photo credit: Nora Ferm, USAID

USAID is supporting programs in the Dominican Republic to help people of all ages not only understand the effects of climate change, but also communicate those changes to their fellow citizens, creating new leaders in this critical area.

As part of this effort, USAID and partners—The Nature Conservancy and the Center for the Conservation and Eco-Development of Samaná Bay and its Surroundings (CEBSE)—are holding workshops about climate change adaptation for local youth. Youth in Samaná are now fired up and eager to put into practice the knowhow they have picked up from their recent training. They are reaching out to other members of their community and teaching them about the dangers of climate change and ways to adapt to these changes locally.

Workshop participants Ulrich and Vanessa say that they want to hit the ground running: “We’re going to communicate in schools and colleges what we learned in the climate change workshops so that young people in our communities get to know the environmental problems that face us…and realize that part of the solution is that we have to adapt and that this in turn requires a change in our attitudes to our environment.”

The focus on youth is essential—more than 60 percent of the population of the province of Samaná is composed of young people. They have an important role to play in solving problems affecting their environment, and bringing this awareness of how to act in a climate-sensitive manner into the future.

Leani and Deliz, two other workshop participants, are eager to get started by using twitter and blogs to “communicate on the internet about climate change, not only with our peers but also with a view to exchange ideas with young people from other areas of the Dominican Republic as well as from neighboring islands facing the same threats.”

According to one participant, “I did not really understand what global warming and the greenhouse effect meant. Now I know how they relate to climate change…but more importantly, I learned about mangroves and coral reefs. Although we live so close to them we were not aware how they protect our coast and what an important role they play in our livelihoods.”

The youth benefitting from this workshop are already becoming leaders in their community by leading conservation efforts as volunteers with CEBSE, working in their local Mayors’ offices, and seeking learning opportunities on climate change outside of the program. Fifteen-year-old participant Daniel Aurelio Reyes Gomez has grand aspirations to keep his momentum going and eventually become a great political leader for his nation. The program will continue to support these future Dominican leaders by expanding to
education centers and fifteen high schools, training 20-50 students at each school.

USAID is also helping smallholder farmers in the Dominican Republic to access and use new methods to deal with climate risks, such as adjusting planting cycles, and better managing natural resource inputs. Farmers are being instructed in ways to take full advantage of climate and weather forecasts and market-based insurance products that complement risk reduction efforts. Such efforts help ensure that farm productivity is sustainable into the future.

This not only reduces the impacts of shocks that farmers themselves face, but also improves the environmental condition of resources downstream, such as the mangroves and coral reefs in coastal communities like Samaná, which are degraded by an onslaught of negative impacts, from upstream agricultural pollution to climate change-induced alterations in ocean chemistry.

By working with those whose livelihoods are currently impacted by the effects of climate change, and by engaging the youth in impacted communities, USAID is promoting multigenerational awareness of and engagement with climate change resiliency.

Environmental Awareness: The Roots of Peace

Earth Days bridge dialogue and action, addressing conflict over natural resources in Kyrgyzstan.  

Osh province, Nookat district, rural municipality Kenesh, school named after Nyshanbaev, March 26, 2013 High school students plant roses in early spring to save school’s environment. Photo Credit: Nargiza Kyrgyzbaeva

Disputes over natural resources, especially water and land, are potential triggers for conflict in Kyrgyzstan. The country has experienced violent conflict on a number of occasions in its two decades of independence, driven by factors including a struggle for limited resources between diverse ethnic communities, weak adherence to the rule of law, and corruption. To alleviate some of the tensions, USAID created Early Warning Networks, which bring local government, traditional and non-traditional leaders, youth leaders and concerned citizens together to mitigate conflict through community dialogue and events.

This year, the Early Warning Networks in the southern Osh Province and at the national level organized a series of Earth Day celebrations. In addition to fostering dialogue and cooperation between communities over potential sources of conflict, these celebrations focused on promoting environmental awareness and positive changes in local communities. These activities are part of USAID/Kyrgyzstan’s Conflict Mitigation through Targeted Analysis through Community Actionproject (COMTACA). Through activities like these, USAID fosters conflict mitigation through technology, dialogue, and community events.

Osh province, Aravan district, Ayil Okmotu Allya Anarova, March 13, 2013 Group work presents positive mood to all event participants. Photo Credit: Islam Baybagyshev

I was lucky enough to attend three events in honor of Earth Day.  In the first, two communities in the Osh Province’s Aravan district joined efforts to clean irrigation canals. This helped improve the efficiency of their shared irrigation resources and reduced the risk of conflict over irrigation access. In the nearby community of Nookat, students planted roses and trees to create a greener school but, above all, to build a sense of student unity.

Albina Nurlanova is an eleventh grader who planted trees during these Earth Day celebrations. She shared her thoughts with me: “I was very glad to plant a tree in my school by leaving a memory for future students. Time will pass and in 20 years when I visit my school, I will be proud to show my children the tree that I planted it with my own hands and teach them to protect the environment.” Taking an active part in different environmental activities that bring unity and friendship—and put smiles on people’s faces—made me proud to be a citizen of Kyrgyzstan.

This series of Earth Day events culminated on April 20 with a final event organized in the national capital of Bishkek.  It was called Environmental Awareness: the Roots of Peace. This event highlighted the importance of peace, harmony and the unity of Kyrgyzstan through environmental awareness. By planting a tree, participants demonstrated their dedication to harmony and stability by leaving a lasting memory for future generations.  More than 300 students, environmental activists, artists and local residents came together in Bishkek’s Ata Turk Park to plant trees, sing songs, recite poems and give speeches about the environment. For more information, please visit www.acted.org or https://www.facebook.com/DenZemli.

Working to Preserve the Coral Triangle

During Earth Week, we’re exploring the connections between climate change and the environment we depend on to sustain us. 

Stretching across almost 6 million square kilometers of ocean and coastal waters in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, the Coral Triangle is considered the global epicenter of marine biodiversity. It is nearly half the size of the United States and home to over 500 species of reef-building corals and 3,000 species of fish and threatened marine species such as sea turtles. It is also home to some 363 million people, a third of whom depend directly on coastal and marine resources for their livelihoods.

These rich natural resources support livelihoods in the six countries of the Coral Triangle area—Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. Yet they are increasingly under threat. Scientists warn that, by the year 2030, virtually all coral reefs in the Coral Triangle Region will be threatened by a combination of ocean warming and acidification as well as human activities. More than 80 percent of reefs will face high, very high, or critical threat levels, according to the Reefs at Risk Revisited report (PDF), by the World Resources Institute.

Communities in the Coral Triangle learn how to assess their vulnerability to sea level rise caused by climate change at a workshop organized by USAID’s US CTI Support Program. Photo credit: USAID

To grapple with this challenge, the six countries of the Coral Triangle area formed the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI). They committed to work together to stem the decline of the region’s marine resources and increase the social and economic resilience of coastal communities to climate change. With USAID support, they adopted the CTI Region-wide Early Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation for Near-shore Marine and Coastal Environment and Small Island Ecosystems in 2011. Under this action plan, the six countries are developing tools for communities on the front lines.

Among these tools is the Local Early Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation Toolkit, a comprehensive set of cutting-edge scientific and social instruments that local governments and communities can use to conduct climate outreach to their constituents. It can be used to develop qualitative climate change vulnerability assessments and site-specific adaptation plans.

The toolkit provides critical information in a practical format. And it is catching on. By the end of 2012, at least 137 participants from six communities and government and academic institutions in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, and the Philippines were replicating the  Coral Triangle Initiative trainings and developing their own vulnerability assessments and climate change adaptation plans.

Many come from areas that are key marine biodiversity sites like Kimbe Bay, Milne Bay and Manus in Papua New Guinea and similar spots in the Western and Choiseul Provinces of Solomon Islands.

In Manus, Jenny Songan has started a Women in Conservation group to cultivate and plant mangrove seedlings and take other steps to mitigate against climate change. Residents of Ndilou Island in Manus have built seawalls and planted mangroves to reclaim beaches lost to erosion caused by climate change.

In the meantime, the governments of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (PDF), recognizing the critical need for these tools, agreed to create a national network of training teams to roll out the training—a critical need.

Local government officials believe the practical training is key to helping build resilient ecosystems and communities across the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity. “We have learned valuable tools and lessons which I know will further our work in country,” said Agnetha Vave-Karamui, Chief Conservation Officer for the Solomon Islands Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology. “We look forward to putting into use what we have learned.”

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