The United Nations environmental agency today announced a multi-million dollar project to help some of the world’s poorest people better cope with drought and pest infestations, targeting 20 pilot areas for restoration of damaged forests, soils, water and other key life-support systems in southern Niger and northern Nigeria.
The wide-ranging, $14.5 million project, being launched by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), aims to strengthen the way natural resources are managed, boost legal and institutional frameworks and streamline cooperation between the two countries, thus helping to alleviate poverty and increase food production, while improving the health and viability of fragile ecosystems.
The multi-billion dollar GEF was established by donor governments in 1991 with projects managed by implementing agencies which include UNEP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and World Bank.
“The tragic images of people suffering and starving in Niger have shocked us all,” GEF Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Len Good said. “In the short term, these people desperately need food and medicines and reliable and stable markets for grain and livestock. In the long term, however, we must help them to reclaim their future. This can only be done by reducing the pressures on their natural resources through the improved management of soil, vegetation and water systems.
“In doing so we will not only be bolstering these communities so that they can better handle the environmental shocks of droughts and plague, we will also be helping to put them on track towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), from improved water supplies and better health, to the empowerment of women and reduced child mortality,” he added of the targets set by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000.
UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer noted that world leaders will be meeting at a summit at UN Headquarters in New York next month to review implementation of the MDGs. “It is my sincere hope that, as underlined by this new project, they will fully agree that the environment is not a luxury but is ‘natural capital’ needed for overcoming poverty and delivering peaceful, long-lasting, development,” he said.
Niger, ranked second to last on the UN poverty index, has been racked by drought and, more recently, locust infestations, leading to an estimated third of its more than 11 million people suffering severe food shortages. Experts believe that the country is now more vulnerable to natural disasters like droughts and plagues as a result of human pressures such as over-grazing, felling of forests for fuel and water pollution.
Such pressures are deemed to be highest on the borders between the countries and have become a source of tension and conflict between villages and communities.
Over 20 pilot areas are to be established in communities linked with four river catchments shared by Niger and Nigeria – the Maggia-Lamido, Gada-Gulbin Maradi, Tagwai-El Fadama and Komadugu.
Measures will include natural resource conflict prevention, evaluations of biological resources, management of degraded sites, the pin-pointing of sustainable practices and new and profitable alternatives to unsustainable and damaging activities in areas such as food production and energy.