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Wetlands International and Africa Union Commission – Great Green Wall Initiative call for revival of wetland systems in the Sahel at New York Climate Summit

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  • Climate and disaster risks
  • Community resilience

With the focus of the New York Climate Action Summit on generating concrete proposals that can be accelerated for climate action, Wetlands International will pledge commitment for its Blue Lifelines for a Secure Sahel initiative.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for tangible plans that will help countries reach the scale and speed of mitigation, adaptation and resilience needed to deal with climate emergency.

Mobilising Blue Lifelines for a Secure Sahel
Wetlands International is building a consortium to mobilise the “Blue Lifelines for a Secure Sahel“ (BLiSS) initiative that will revive and safeguard the region’s rivers, floodplains, lakes, deltas and ponds — improving water and food security and building resilience for communities.

It aims to raise awareness on the need for these “blue lifelines” and to convert political commitment of African leaders and international donors into major investments that put wetlands at the heart of sustainable development and climate adaptation. The aim is, by end 2030, to have restored and safeguarded 20 million hectares of wetlands in at least six major systems improving the adaptive capacity and safety of around 10 million people across the Sahel.

Declining wetlands impact the stability of the region
The region’s wetlands weave across the vast arid and semi-arid landscape, providing water, food and fodder for farmers, fishers, and pastoralists – and supporting seasonal migration for people and animals, including millions of waterbirds that breed in Europe.

While these wetland systems are the economic engine of the Sahel, providing sustenance in the dry season and crucial refuges during droughts, they are now in decline due to a combination of upstream water diversions and climate change.

The continuing trend of wetland decline, with subsequent water and food scarcity is jeopardising the region’s social, economic and political stability. Climate change is already exacerbating these circumstances with unpredictable rainfall and scorching temperatures. This impacts the poorest and most vulnerable, and fuels social conflict. The remaining wetlands are becoming sources of out-migration, while some fall victim to over-use as they attract displaced people from conflict areas.

A catalyst for change
Jane Madgwick, Chief Executive Officer of Wetlands International said: “Water is the most precious resource in the Sahel and yet too little attention is being given to managing it wisely or fairly. River flows and formerly naturally productive wetlands are being diminished, driving people back into poverty and even fueling conflicts.
The seasonal flood pulse is the engine of the local economy for tens of millions of people – including some of the poorest and most vulnerable on the planet. There is evidence that shows by reviving wetlands, alongside re-greening of the drylands, this situation can be turned around.”

She added: “BLiSS will be a catalyser of change, re-orientating some existing development investments and enabling communities to take action themselves. Existing investment to regreen and climate-proof the region misses an essential blue dimension and large infrastructure schemes are favoured over community- and ecosystem-based programmes.

It’s time for a radical change in approach. It’s not too late and we are confident that with the backing of political leaders, civil society can work hand-in-hand with government and the private sector to act in favour of a resilient and peaceful Sahel .”

Building on existing dryland initiatives
BLiSS, a consortium initiated by Wetlands International, is now joined by the Africa Union Commission within the framework of the Great Green Wall Initiative and CARE. Together they will enable inclusive water governance and community-based action for safeguarding and reviving wetlands, especially in hotspots of rising conflict over natural resources such as the Lake Chad region.

Elvis Paul Tangem, Africa Union Commission: Coordinator, Great Green Wall Initiative says: “For too long, there has been a disconnect between land restoration initiatives and initiative that aims to safeguard and revive the wetlands ecosystems. It is inconceivable to talk of restoration of the dry lands without paying equal attention to the wetlands, the watershed of the dry lands. Complete restoration of the Dry lands of Africa will only be possible with the Sustainable management and restoration of degraded wetlands.”

“By bridging the wetlands and restoration of the degraded lands in the Dry lands of Africa through Community based actions applying innovative indigenous approaches, up scaling best practices and leveraging on existing efforts, sustainability will be guaranteed. Through BLiSS the consortium will promote science-policy interface to enable evidence-based policy-making to avoid policies that avoid isolation and promote the separation of dry lands and wetlands thereby leading to the current situation where dry lands issues are treated separately from those of wetlands.”

BLiSS is proposed to participate in the Global Commission on Adaptation’s Water Action Track, which aims to build coalitions and speed up investment in solutions. Other tracks include infrastructure, nature-based solutions and urban resilience.

Further Information
Gina Lovett, Head of Communications & Advocacy, [email protected]