The five member states of the East African Community (EAC) have approved a plan to establish a US$2 billion joint fund to combat the effects of the climate change in the region.
The climate fund, which has been welcomed by climate change experts as timely, was endorsed by the ministers of environment and natural resources in their recent meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.
The fund, which is the largest project that the partner states of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi are jointly targeting to fund, will be financing projects aimed at protecting the environment from harmful activities. Statistics from the EAC secretariat show that more than 80% of the natural disasters in the region are climate related.
Such disasters include droughts and floods and they cause deaths of people and animals and destroy crops and infrastructure causing famine and homelessness.
Fred Nzasabimana, an environmental and natural resources expert in the ministry of EAC affairs in Rwanda said the fund will be hosted by the EAC secretariat in Arusha, Tanzania, and contributions will be by all five partner states. "We shall be launching resource mobilisation and partner states will be contributing to the fund," Nzasabimana said.
Nzasabimana said that the partner states will also create a team of negotiators to continue discussing climate change matter on the international level where the issue of climate change is widely debated. The Rwanda Minister of Natural resources, Stanislas Kamanzi, urged partner states to show political commitment to achieve the objectives of the fund.
Jesca Eriyo, the deputy secretary general in charge of Productive and Social sectors at the EAC secretariat said she was optimistic about the fund and reiterated the urgent need for member countries to finance the fund. She said that though the fund would focus on climate change mitigation, the secretariat had instituted serious actions against the trans-boundary ecosystem challenges that were also hindering the community.
During the meeting in Kigali, the ministers also approved the EAC draft on disaster risk reduction and management change master plan that would see member countries collaborating in fighting and reducing disasters through exchange of ideas and experts.
"We are also going to build capacities of local communities particularly those who live within the trans-boundary and eco-systems and through that we will be able to inform other sectors that are dependent on climate change like agricultural sector," she said. She noted that the partner states were facing an alarming issue of wildlife that move freely crossing the borders to other countries and spreading diseases. She said this issue needed an urgent solution.
Rwanda for instance is battling with Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) which has hit cattle in three districts of the Eastern province causing losses to the cattle keepers who are not able to sell their animals and buy basic needs. The disease is said to have struck from neighbouring Tanzania and quickly spread in the Rwandan districts of Gatsibo, Kayonza and Nyagatare that are seen as major producers of beef and milk. Meat prices in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, have since November last year gone up because of cattle from the affected region are quarantined.
Disasters threaten EAC:
In 2011 the East African region was hit by unprecedented drought which was considered to be the worst in 60 years.
Reports indicate that more than 10 million people were affected by hunger across the region especially Kenya, northern Uganda, northern Tanzania and other different parts of the region.
In another incident, in 2010 landslide induced by torrential rain devastated three villages in the mountainous district of Bududa located on the slope of Mt Elgon in eastern part of Uganda where over 100 people were killed and property destroyed.
In 2011 over 13 people were reported dead after deadly landslides occurred in western province of Rwanda. Rwanda historically has been vulnerable to periodic natural disasters, mainly in the form of droughts, floods and landslides impacting the economy and the countryÂ´s efforts towards sustainable development and poverty reduction.
Odette Kayitesi, the Burundian minister of agriculture who was among the regional ministers to approve the fund highlighted the need to immediately begin soliciting for the funds from all the partner states.
She said that climate alteration had contributed to the persistence of food shortage in southern part of Burundi and it has continued to impede the already frustrated Burundian economy.
Projects under implementation:
The new fund is seen as a stepping stone to curb all the climatic challenges that have been hampering the economic and social aspects in the east African region.
The effects of climate change have been widely recorded among the EAC partner states and the populations have been hit hard in the recent past. The EAC partner states are already implementing some regional projects aimed at combating adverse effects of climate change. There are currently two projects under implementation.
One of the projects is rolling out the African ministerial conference on environment communication strategy on climate change in east Africa whose overall objective is to enhance climate change awareness amongst the general public, policy makers and other regional stakeholders.
The project also seeks to promote the region's effective political and technical engagement in regional and global climate change policy processes such as United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The second project include enhancing climate change adaption policy leadership in east Africa that aims at supporting EAC to increase its policy, leadership, technical capacity and action readiness in the area of climate change adaptation and development through implementing its new climate change policy strategy and master plan.