Barcelona/Nairobi, 6 October 2008 - A "lost' lake in Mali and a Kenyan forest that is the water tower for key rivers and lakes in East Africa are among two country projects aimed at bringing significant degraded and denuded ecosystems back from the brink. The projects are among several being drawn up and spearheaded by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), in cooperation with governments, to demonstrate that re-investing in damaged ecosystems can generate significant economic, environmental and social returns.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Barcelona/Nairobi, 6 October 2008 - A ‘lost’ lake in Mali and a Kenyan forest that is the water tower for key rivers and lakes in East Africa are among two country projects aimed at bringing significant degraded and denuded ecosystems back from the brink.
The projects are among several being drawn up and spearheaded by the UN Environment Programme ( UNEP ), in cooperation with governments, to demonstrate that re-investing in damaged ecosystems can generate significant economic, environmental and social returns.
A further project proposal is being drawn up and staff being hired to restore soils, wetlands, forests and other key ecosystem on the hurricane-vulnerable island of Haiti where environmental degradation has been linked to social unrest.
In total UNEP wants to launch pilot large-scale and nationally significant rehabilitation of nature-based assets in five countries during the run up to the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said the projects would also serve as key adaptation measures for communities and countries facing ever more severe impacts from climate change.
“In a climate constrained world, these nature-based assets and the services they provide will become ever more central to an economy’s ability to thrive and to survive. Investments are urgently needed in hard infrastructure, from cleaner and greener energy to more intelligent and sustainable transport networks and urban planning,” he said.
“But we also need to invest and re-invest in the ‘soft’ infrastructure too - from forests and fisheries to wetlands and soils - if we are to ensure water and food supplies in a world with climate change and in a world with nine billion mouths to feed in just four decades,” said Mr Steiner, who spotlighted the initiative’s at the 5th IUCN Congress taking place in Barcelona, Spain.
Earlier this year the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that conflicts, climate change and rising food prices were among the factors that had led to over 11 million people being classed as refugees in 2008.
The United Nations University estimates that there are now about 19.2 million people officially recognized as "persons of concern" - that is, people likely to be displaced because of environmental disasters. This figure is predicted to grow to about 50 million by the end of the year 2010.
The new projects aims to counter these trends by demonstrating that large-scale interventions in lost and fading ecosystems are cost effective ways of boosting livelihoods, economic prospects and social stability for communities, countries and even regions.
The pilots will in part build on a wealth of skills and experience acquired in both developed and developed countries in recent years on successful often small to medium scale ecosystem restoration.
Skills and expertise also gleaned by UNEP from a four year, $14 million programme to assist Iraq restore the Marshlands of Mesopotamia - an area some experts proposed was the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden.
The project, funded by the Government of Japan, has restored clean drinking water for well over 20,000 Marsh Arabs as well as boosting habitats for a wide range of species including the spawning grounds for the Gulf fisheries.
The success of the project has prompted the Iraqi government to press ahead with a push to have the marshlands listed as a World Heritage Site with support from UNEP and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ( UNESCO ).
Lake Faguibine - Bring It On back
The lake, a spearhead-shaped water body which at its maximum can cover close to 600 square km, has been almost totally dry since the 1970s.
The lake, linked with seasonal flooding of the third largest river in Africa: the Niger, once provided a variety of services and livelihoods to local people.
These included agriculture; dry season grazing for livestock and a fishery with a catch of some 5,000 tons of fish.
Lake Faguibine also once provided a resting and feeding site for hundreds of thousands of mainly overwintering water-birds from Europe.
In June 2008, the government of Mali requested assistance from the United Nations to support the rehabilitation of the Lake Faguibine System and UNEP dispatched a team in August.
The team have now completed their preliminary assessment of some of factors behind the loss of the lake and the benefits that are likely to accrue to close to some 200,000 mainly nomadic people living in and around the area.
These range from declining rainfall in the region, increased evaporation rates and land use changes alongside blockages and other impediments to flood waters from the Niger reaching the lake.
Indeed water levels at Dire, a town on the flooding path to Lake Faguibine, have declined by somewhere around a half since the 1960s.
The plan calls for a two phase programme. The first, two year phase involves building alliances with local stakeholders and groups and boosting the science and in-country capacity needed to take the project forward.
The second phase will include management of land and the hydrological cycle in order to bring the seasonal lake back to health. Measures may include clearing of some two million cubic metres of sand blocking the channels feeding the lake; less intensive land use regimes and more sensitive management of discharges from dams on the Niger.
Lessons from other countries and not just Iraq could be applied here.
A new management plan for the Itezhi-tezhi dam in Zambia has helped to restore the natural seasonal flooding of the Kafue flats, as shown in 2007 satellite images published in UNEP’s recently published Atlas of Our Changing Environment.
Meanwhile the expansion of wetlands resulting from a restoration project in and around Diawling National Park is helping to control flooding and improve livelihoods in Mauritania.
The total scheme for Lake Faguibine is expected to cost upwards of $12 million and several donor countries have signalled interest in taking the work forward in cooperation with the Government of Mali, UNEP and other partners.
It is expected that sources of financial support will be announced soon.
The Mau Complex - Bring It On Back
The Mau is the largest closed-canopy forest in Kenya generating goods and services worth in excess of 20 billion Kenyan shillings ( or over $320 million ) annually for the country’s tea, tourism and hydro-power sectors. It is located on the western side of the Rift Valley.
The ecosystems not only provide essential water to rivers and lakes in Kenya but also feed Lake Victoria, which is shared with Uganda and Tanzania and is part of the River Nile Basin, and Lake Natron, shared with Tanzania.
Water provided by the Mau feeds rivers that nourish major tourist destinations including the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park - part of a sector that employs a million people in the formal and informal sectors.
Over recent years the forest has been impacted by “extensive illegal, irregular and ill-planned settlements as well as illegal forest resources extraction,” according to a UNEP assessment.
In total over 100,000 hectares or close to a quarter of the Mau Complex has been destroyed in the past decade putting at risk livelihoods, businesses and existing and planned hydropower schemes.
The new coalition government in Kenya have, based on UNEP and partners’ aerial surveys and recommendations, decided to act to reverse the rate of loss and restore the productivity of the Mau ecosystem.
The Prime Minister of Kenya formed a Task Force in July this year which is being supported by UNEP which is currently assessing the measures needed to restore the forest ecosystems back to health.
Areas of initial action have included establishing effective enforcement and management structure; identifying the legal boundaries and assessing land ownership in the entire forests ecosystems towards resettling / relocating people alongside with resource mobilization for the strategy.
Further degradation from logging and encroaching settlements has been contained by Kenya Wildlife Service rangers and forest guards acting with the local authority and administrative police force.
A strategic management plan is being prepared along with mapping of biodiversity hot spots and critical water catchment areas.
Restoration, including re-establishment of forest plantations; the promotion of natural regeneration and “forest enrichment planting to support natural regeneration”, is expected to commence early in 2009.
Nairobi River Basin - Bring It On Back
The initiative dovetails with one to restore the health of rivers running through the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
In cooperation with the government and city council, UNEP is assisting on a ten-point plan to rehabilitate these freshwaters which have become virtually open clogged sewers; a source of disease; a blight on the landscape and an impediment to urban renewal and economic development.
The plan aims to restore the rivers back to health so they can again provide drinking water and recreation facilities while acting as ‘arteries’ for an urban renaissance..
A wide range of actions, funded by the government and the United Nations, are already underway and in the pipeline with a key source of pollution: namely a slaughterhouse, recently shut down.
Studies on illegal discharges and solid waste disposal sites are being done; measures to relocate small businesses are under discussion and a wide variety of landscaping, dredging and other projects being taken forward.
A notorious rubbish dumping site is to be moved to a safer and less sensitive location and rehabilitation proposals for sewage and drinking water treatment are being evaluated.
The Nairobi Dam, once a source of drinking water and venue for sailing, is to be a centre-piece with urban renewal designs already drawn up including the development of riverfront commercial developments and leisure facilities.
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