Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

3 February 2013

East Africa: EAC Partner States Join Hands to Contain Climate Change

The East African Community (EAC) region has been suffering from a range of negative impacts related to the climate change. Heavy rains, long droughts and violent winds have been occurring in the region, devastating thousands of hectors of crops, houses and affecting agricultural production and water levels of lakes, among others.

Jessica Eriyo, the deputy secretary general in charge of productive and social sectors at the EAC secretariat, says for instance that the bloc has problems of receding water levels at Lake Victoria.

In addition, heavy rains and winds recently ravaged Mwaro and Kayanza provinces of Burundi where houses and crops were violently destroyed, according to Odette Kayitesi, Burundi's Minister of Agriculture and livestock.

In Rwanda, unexpected heavy rains have hit the north-western part of the country and even Kigali, while violent winds ravaged Bugesera in the recent past. The same situation also occurs in other parts of the EAC and beyond.

Fear of environmental degradation has drawn the attention of the officials in the region to combine efforts to sustain the ecosystem for the wellbeing of the people. "Without the conservation of the environment and natural resources, the other sectors will suffer," noted Eriyo.

She made the statement last Friday at the closure ceremony of the second meeting of the EAC Sectoral Council on Environment and Natural Resources. The meeting brought together ministers responsible for environment from all five EAC states who discussed a number of issues including activities and programs initiated by the EAC secretariat, but also directives that were given in the previous council.

According to the EAC deputy secretary general, more than 75% of the directives that were given by the council of ministers have been implemented.

But climate change is not an individual issue, but a collective concern. It is in this regard that the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the EAC in July of last year signed the Tripartite Agreement for the implementation of the five-year program on climate change adaptation and mitigation in eastern and southern Africa.

Though it is clear that the scale and gravity of the impacts of climate change at the global level and particularly in developing countries is a serious challenge to sustainable development, climate change would be increasingly affecting socio-economic development in the eastern and southern Africa region that is heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture for food security; hence a need of concerted effort.

"We need to build our capacity and be resilient against disasters caused by climate change within our region," Eriyo said, making it clear that capacity building will be done at secretariat, national and communities' levels.

For the official, the involvement of the communities will significantly help them sustain the ecosystem; thus contribute to the climate change adaptation and mitigation mechanisms. "We have technical framework, but also framework for community based organizations, NGOs and private sector. So we are going to take it up," she pointed.

Collaboration with people

Apart from that, the official said that through the framework, local the communities get involved. In the tourism sector, for example, she noted, there is collaborative management of the national parks and forests with communities, they participate, they get employment in terms of like keeping fire lines.

"We want collaboration with people so as to protect these resources jealously," she pointed out.

At regional level, the official noted that they are going to implement trans-boundary project activities so as to sustain wildlife that might migrate from one country to another. This will also imply working together with all countries of the region.

Among other important issues that were tabled during the meeting, according to the EAC official, include the protocol on environment and natural resources that have been developed since 2007 under a framework of harmonization of environmental sustainability in the region.

The protocol was signed before Rwanda and Burundi joined the bloc, but so far it's only the United Republic of Tanzania that has not yet ratified; though Burundi and Rwanda will accede to it once Tanzania ratify it. Though the delay, officials confirm that Tanzania remain committed.

"In the meeting they said that they are committed and that they continue with consultations process because they want to be very careful so that what they will sign will not have negative impacts on their country," stated Eriyo.

In addition, Stanislas Kamanzi, Rwanda's Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, said that partner sates talked about budget required at countries' levels to implement all programs that are established to sustain ecosystems and control climate change effects that are beating the region.

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