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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Public Participation - Sense of Urgency to Rescue Rift Valley Lakes Featured

Lake Langano shorelines are risk of human encroachment
The Ethiopian rift valley lakes are clustered along the northern section of the African Great Rift Valley. Although many disturbances to the natural resources, influencing both its status and diversity the rift valley lakes area is also known for its stock of remnant forests and wildlife, among others. Among the protected areas forest Adaba-Dodola and Harama-Buluk are known by its potential to sequestrate carbon emission and its immense contribution to the local community in particular and the Region in general through Eco-tourism, environmental services and economic values, according to Oromia Forest and Wildlife Enterprise (OFWE).
Among the limitless potentials, its is a centre of biodiversity also important bird habitat and sanctuary also breeding, feeding and nesting habitat for many residential as well as palaertic migrating birds.
Lake Abijata and Shalla particularly are known for inter-lake flights by flamingo, pelican and variety of other water birds. Several different Northern Paleartic birds also visit Abijata as a staging - stop over- and wintering ground, says Dr. Girma Tilahun, lecturer at Hawassa University, Biology Department. "Lake Abijata has been proposed as international wetland National Park by EWCO (Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization) in 1989 and protected bird sanctuary."
The Rift Valley lakes such as Langano and Hawassa are recreational sites. And some are source of fishery, notably Koka, Ziway and Hawassa as well are used for drinking and irrigation not to mention the ecologically diversity which provide best opportunity to study limnological, he said with enthusiasm.
On the other hand, despite unlimited potential, within the last 30 to 40 years, the Rift Valley lakes shores and associated wetlands and wildlife, in particular the bird population and fish are sadly at risk due to increasing population pressure, land degradation, deforestation, overgrazing siltation, among others, said Dr. Girma in his presentation to the panel discussion held as a side event to World Environment Day.
"Wetlands are in danger because they are out of sight." For instance, Lake Cheleleka in particular is no more. It's 12 km2 is now reduced to 0.1 km2, since it is being converted into swamp as a result of heavy siltation and sedimentation. Shallo swamp- 63 km2 size is increasingly shrinking in size and being converted into dry land due to rapidly expanding residential area and draining for grazing and farmland. Wetlands around lake Langano are also in danger, he added.
It didn't stop there he continued, Lake Abijata and Shalla are also rapidly shrinking because of intensive water extraction for Soda ash project. Lake Ziway shoreline is intensively used for agriculture and water extraction and up stream water diversion for irrigation so is Hawassa and Koka lakes. Not to mention, over fishing, indiscriminate use of gear such as gill nets, invasive species such as water hyacinth that are covering River Awash and expanding into Lake Koka.
Absence of strong organizational structure with efficient network and clear chain of authority up to and including local communities as well as absence of integrated activities in a wider ecosystem approach, among others are also main reasons cited by him that aggravate the situation.
Increasing forest cover and conservation of existing benefits more than just climate change mitigation, said Minster of Environment and Forest, Belete Tafere. Ethiopia has been striving to curb climate change effects. Millions of people have been actively engaged in soil and watershed management as well as reafforestation endeavours and conservation works, which is registering encouraging results, he added.
"Yes, it is understandable to question the reported figures on environment protection and conservation. The government invested a lot in protecting and conserving our environment. However, despite the huge efforts and activities the conservation works still are not that significant. "We have serious limitation in protecting our forests and wetlands. Yes I agree, we need to scale-up our efforts," adding, "GTP II has huge ambitious. Hopefully it will address these and other environmental issues timely.
Mohamed Ibrahim, Deputy Head of Rural Land and Environment Protection Bureau, in response said, we are doing intensive conservation works to protect the Rift Valley also the remnant forests." We are actively engaged in teaching the communicates and finding alternative energy resource, he added. "We also brought many offenders to justice."
"I just heard about Lake Cheleleka right now. We don't have any information about it. We will look into it. The Lake is found in two jurisdictions, hence a responsibility of Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities and People states."
In regards to lakes Abijata and Shalla, one of the problem was intensive digging and sale of sand by youth organized within several Micro and Small Enterprise (MSEs). Together with the community, we managed to find alternative employment for the youth." In terms of Ash Soda production we are trying to find a solution with concerned bodies.
The objectives for the Environment and Climate Change initiatives of the GTP I are to formulate and effectively implementing on going environmental policies, laws, strategies and standards which will foster social and green economy development so as to enhance the welfare of citizens and environment sustainability.
The government has therefore, initiated the Climate Resilient Green Economy (GRGE ,2011) imitative to protect the country the diverse effects of climate change and its adverse effects and to build a green economy that will help realize its ambition to reach middle income status by 2025.
According to Belete Geda, expert with the Ministry of Environment and Forest in the GTP I, with active community participation efforts invested to conserve the environment and reduce climate change vulnerability are paying off.
"Some 26 million people on average participate in watershed management and soil and water conservation works. Which means for 30 days every year the community contributed its labour for the conservation works worth 27.8 billion birr or about 1.4 billion USD.
As a result, in 2010 the country forest coverage showed only 5 per cent increase but that is more than doubled in 2013 to 13-15 per cent. "In the GTP I, it was planned to collect slightly over 4,8 quintals of various forest tree seeds but at the end of the plan year over 22.500 quintals of seeds were gathered. "
Some 20,000 watersheds are identified and management plan was formulated with a 101 per cent success rate and 8.5 million hectare of land designated for closure and possible to accomplish 85 percent of the target.
"The GTP targeted soil and watershed management works on slightly over 16.2 million hectare but managed to protect over 75.7 million hectare of land, soil and water at a 465 per cent success rate," he further said, "1.9 million hectare of land is rehabilitated for that of the plan 894,000 also a 215.4 per cent achievement." Furthermore, it was planned to carry out small scale irrigation schemes on over 8.5 million hectare of land but at the end of the plan year over 1.1 million of land is cultivated by the irrigation schemes."
Climate change is the defining human development issue of our generation. The 2007 Human Development report acknowledges that climate change threatens to erode human freedoms and limit choice. While underscoring the vulnerability of the rift valley lakes and wetlands, it should also be acknowledged that community participation play an important role in supporting households and communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Therefore, community based and participatory approach Bottom - up approach that ensures the involvement of local population and communities in decision making, and implementation of action plan is vital.
Community with out basic understanding about the structure, function, values and benefits of aquatic ecosystem can not be blamed if it fails to foresee the consequence of over exploitation. Thus, Dr. Girma suggests, public education- formal and informal also the use of multi - media is essential.
Dr. Girma finalized his study presentation emphasizing research and environmental monitoring as well as long term limnological and hydrological records that are critically needed to identify natural variability in physical, chemical and biological characteristics of lakes to explain short and long term changes there by creating an "early warning" system "The tradition of not investing much on research until problems pile up and passes its threshold should be strongly criticized. EIA and feasibility studies should be seen as precautionary measures rather than burden or saddle of investment."