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Friday, July 19, 2024
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Effective climate action will help The Gambia’s peace and stability

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By: Kingsley Ighobor

Floods and windstorms have ravaged The Gambia lately, displacing thousands of citizens. The rise in sea level and costal erosion further worsen the effects of climate change in the country. The UN Resident Coordinator in The Gambia, Seraphine Wakana, says the country is doing its best on climate change mitigation and adaptation, but it needs all the help it can get. These are excerpts from her interview with Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor:

What is your experience so far at COP27?

So far so good for me. It’s my first participation in COP, and there is a lot of exchange of experiences on many issues—from mitigation to adaptation and just energy transition. Food security, gender and children have also been important issues of discussion.

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Are there some discussions that will help you in your work back in the Gambia?

Yes. I am keen on planning and programming. You know the Gambia is a small country with limited capacities and expects a lot of support from the UN on policy and planning processes. That is where we want to share our experience and learn from other countries.

The other area I am interested in is adaptation. As you know, the Gambia is one of the few countries in the world whose actions, by government and supported internationally, align with the goal of keeping global average temperature rises below 1.5C. And that is a lesson we are teaching the rest of the world.

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So what we want now is to be rewarded for our efforts. We want the Gambia to stay on track, and the UN wants to help them mobilize enough funds to remain on track.

How do these extreme weather events affect ordinary Gambians?

Last year we experienced a severe windstorm. This year in August we had the worst floods in 38 years. The impact on people is huge. 

The flooding in August displaced almost 5,000 people and destroyed houses, leaving thousands of destitute.

Extreme weather events like floods have also increased poverty by damaging infrastructure such as roads making it hard for farmers to take their produce to markets. Another impact of the damage to infrastructure is outbreaks of water-borne diseases because of damage to the water reticulation system.

Most disheartening has been the loss of lives. At least 10 people died during last year’s windstorm.

For a country that contributes very little to greenhouse gas emissions, as you said, there must be a sense of injustice suffering many devastating effects of climate change.

Absolutely. That’s why we are calling for help, for resources. We are here to also support the government in their effort to understand that they need to make the request and how to make it – technical capacity.

The Minister of Environment led a team here [COP27], including central and local government representatives, civil society, academia and private sector, and they are still in negotiations. We hope to hear positive news from them.

What support does the UN system provide the government and citizens of the Gambia in addressing climate change challenges?

The first is visioning strategies and programmes for governments to determine how to prioritize their response to climate change. Because governments cannot do everything at the same time, we help them to prioritize based on needs, budgets and available resources.

We helped government to develop their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which were updated last year, and this year the Gambia has adopted its long-term strategy that will serve as the roadmap for achieving the NDC targets.  The focus is now on the implementation stage, including the resource mobilisation part.

The NDC in the Gambia focuses on three areas. The first is more renewable energy. The second is reforestation and third is waste management.

Gambia is a small country with many people living in rural areas and cutting trees is a problem. The forests are disappearing. So, reforestation is important, and we are helping them to do that.

Climate change has also direct impact on the country’s largest sectors—tourism and agriculture. The tourism sector is highly reliant on the country’s beaches, which are disappearing due to sea level rise.

The agricultural sector relies on rain patterns and is highly vulnerable to changes in weather patterns. Because of the change in the rain patterns, productivity is no longer at the level to feed the population. Now, we are seeing inflation rising and hitting food prices and other livelihood items.

So, in these areas, the UN will continue to assist to build capacities and provide necessary technical and material support, where we can.

We also help the government respond to climate change-induced emergencies when they happen.

For example, I was able to draw on the help of both the UNDAC [UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination] and the CERF [UN Central Emergency Response Fund] when we had floods. The UN in the Gambia received $1 million from the CERF and the UNDAC mobilized a team of 14 emergency response specialists to help the government respond to the immediate issues, including food, health and shelter.

These are important humanitarian issues for the country, but we still need more resources.

The last point I would like to add is, given that the grassroots population is not aware of how climate change connects with their everyday life, we want to localize the NDCs, down to local governments and the community level.

What does that mean?

It means that the strategy should not just start and stay at the national level but that the grassroots must understand and accept their role in it. It means, for example, that any woman or a man cooking food for the family can think of a contribution to climate resilience. As the UN, we want to be close to the community. No one should be left behind.

There are also a number of large-scale renewable energy projects in their initial stages of implementation with the objective of providing solar power to rural Gambia.

The UN and the government are rallying grassroots Gambians to take climate action. Is that correct?

Yes, that’s the point I am making. We are asking the youth, women and men to take climate action. Take tree planting, for example. Youth associations have a programme called ‘One Million Trees’, which started in Banjul the capital city, but is now present throughout the country.

Another thing we are doing is mobilizing private sector investment in climate change mitigation efforts, particularly in renewable energy promotion and improvement in agricultural practices.

That is an idea that young people in other countries can adopt.

The thing about tree planting is that it’s low-cost. You don’t need loads of money to plant trees. If you plant a tree and I plant a tree, we will green the country. That’s outstanding climate action.

What COP27 outcome would you like to see?

I say again that the Gambia has a good case in terms of mitigation. I would be very happy to hear that industrialized nations are ready to provide needed climate finance to ensure that countries such as the Gambia suffering from the impacts of their actions can combat climate change effects and meet their mitigation targets.

The issue of loss and damage is also very important for the Gambia.

Finally, as you know, instability is sprouting in many parts of West Africa, and the Gambia must try to maintain peace and stability. Effective climate action can foster peace and stability, by contributing to poverty reduction and enhancing citizens’ trust in their government.

Source: un.org

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