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Surviving the effects of climate change

As part of the global climate change, the horn of Africa has become the victim of climate change for over 30-40 years, the result of which our world is waiting to face. It is already facing serious challenges such as unpredictable rainfall, pollution, soil degradation and dwindling food production, loss of bio-diversity which is partly caused by increasing population, carbon emissions and other pressures on the ecosystem.

The increase of temperature due to the doubling of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) concentration across Eritrea is expected to rise by 4.1 c over the next century (Ministry of Land, Water and Environment, 2010). Surviving this scenario is one of the strategic priorities of the Eritrean government.

Eritrea has developed Food Security Strategy, Environment Management Plan, Integrated Water Resources Management Action Plan and National Action Plan to combat desertification and mitigate the impact of drought (Ministry of Land, Water and Environment, 2010). Those priority actions are believed to be adequate to effectively prevent and mitigate climate change impacts on biodiversity. In all cases water harvesting, soil and water conservation, groundwater recharge, climate change awareness, research on drought resistant crops, natural resources conservation etc. are priority areas where the government is fully engaged to reduce poverty and ensure food security while mitigating the effect of climate variability, drought and soil degradation.

Often colonialism and exploitation of natural resources go hand in hand. During the colonial era, Eritrea’s arable land was under threat. Excessive exploitation and removal of vegetation and heavy extraction of woody biomass resulted in a significant reduction of the land’s productivity. This happened due to the avowed policy of the colonizers, which demonstrated their preference for the land of Eritrea, rather than for the people of Eritrea. In the end, both land and people suffered.

Since the dawn of independence it was understood that the overriding objectives of the country, i.e. the achievement of food security and poverty reduction, could not be achieved unless the problem of land degradation is solved. Cognizant of this fact the Government is making considerable efforts to mobilize its meager resources to tackle this problem. In this connection, the national community service campaign was launched in 1994 to engage the work force of the country in environmental conservation and development activities.

Under this program various vacant lands have been reforested, thousands of kilometers of terraces and over 600 different sized water reservoirs have been built. The aim has been to reduce the exclusive dependence on rain fed crops and to diversify the production. The dams constructed are used for irrigation and serve the local people.

Improving water conservation systems is critical but so is the forest and soil conservation activities. Afforestation activities in deforested lands constitute a very important element in the overall environmental protection programs. The Ministry of Agriculture, in cooperation with different ministries, organizes the annual summer work of students in environmental, soil and water conservation and afforestation activities throughout the country. This year about 8000 students have participated mainly in soil and water conservation. Moreover, expansion of closure systems and other mitigation and adaptation options in the energy sector were sought. In order to reduce the scale of deforestation, trained forest guards are assigned to patrol forests in every village.

To reduce the average carbon emissions, a new use of energy efficient technologies in the generation of electricity has been introduced. Meanwhile, electricity transmission and distribution lines are being extended beyond the major cities and towns into the rural communities so as to reduce the pressure on wood fuel.

An energy use survey conducted by the Ministry of Mines and Energy shows that about 50 % of the energy used by Eritrean households is for baking injera (a local staple food), and more than 80% of the injera is baked using wood. Reduction of demand for wood energy demand greater efficiency of wood energy conversion and utilization thereby reducing cutting of trees is an area of focus of the Ministry of Agriculture. In line with this, the improved stove (mogogo Adhanet), is distributed throughout the country. This has a gender implication since it reduces the work load of women who shoulder the responsibility of fuel wood collection and cooking in the rural communities and The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) plays a very significant role in the distribution of energy saving stoves to rural community.

Eritrea’s vision of sustainable development would be incomplete without addressing the question of land degradation in a coordinated manner. That is why the Ministry of Agriculture, jointly with other ministries and organizations, is playing a key role in creating awareness among the community that conservation of the environment is the responsibility of every citizen in the nation. Environmental education is incorporated into the Eritrean curriculum and community-based environmental protection to arrest the degradation of land is encouraged. As a result, green clubs are proliferating and making a differnece throughout the country.

The traditional holding of land for a limited time has not been conducive for good land use. Understanding this, the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment has issued a new land proclamation in 2016 which alters the routine redistribution of land on 7 year term to a permanent land usage that creates the opportunity for land-users to invest on their land. This will encourage farmers to maintain their land properly, thereby reducing land degradation and increase productivity.

Eritrea cooperates with NGOs and multi-lateral organizations such as the UN and EU that engage in environmental protection and climate change concerns. It has signed the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in 1994.

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