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22 July, 2012

 Restoring Earth's Degraded Lands (Photo: Louisa Meury)
Restoring Earth's Degraded Lands (Photo: Louisa Meury)
‘Land is a matter of life and death,’ said Don de Silva, CEO of Changeways International, UK, speaking at the TIGE conference in Caux, Switzerland, on 19 July. He was introducing IofC initiatives on degraded lands and their repercussions on socio-economic conditions of adjoining areas.
The ‘Restoring Earth’s Degraded Land’ (REDL) programme of IofC, organized in collaboration with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), ‘exists to inspire, equip and connect people – and their organizations – to achieve sustainable land management on a planetary scale, as a path to peace,’ says the programme’s website.

One of the most notable initiatives of this programme is taking place in Baringo County, Kenya, said de Silva. This pilot project aims at building trust between two rival tribal communities through the promotion of sustainable land management. The programme serves as an ultimate path to peace, since mismanagement of resources between these two ethnic communities is a root cause of conflict.
Commenting on the programme, de Silva said that the competition for land is one of the critical issues facing the world today. There are some 18 environmental wars going on at the present. And the numbers of environmental refugees around the world are increasing at an alarming rate.

(Photo: Louisa Meury)
(Photo: Louisa Meury)

As programme partner, IofC is working locally by organising meetings between the two communities. These meetings facilitate dialogue and act as a platform where these communities can express themselves and are an opportunity for the participants to work together and to reflect on resource-sharing.

Rishab Khanna, co-founder of the Indian Youth Climate Network, gave the Caux audience a deeper insight by showing a couple of documentaries illustrating the REDL initiative. Caux had first recognized in 2006 that climate change, food security, biodiversity loss and poverty were interrelated concerns for human security. By investing in land restoration, one could attempt to address all three challenges and multiply the benefits of such programmes by involving both communities and policymakers.

‘Why did IofC start to work on degraded land?’ Khanna asked. ‘Even though The 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development laid out specific Conventions, 20 years later we have seen little progress on the issue of ratification. Nations have the capacity to fund the restoration of land. But the reason they do not act is because they do not prioritize this matter. It is about relationships with ecology and people,’ he said.

Another speaker, Dr Jared Buono of the Watershed Management Group (WMG)/Grampari introduced the initiatives his organisation has undertaken. ‘We met some young girls in Burkina Faso. They have to spend all of their time collecting water, so they could not go to school at all,’ he remarked. WMG /Grampari operates on ground projects which involve local populations and empowers them.

Dr Buono illustrated the role people play in restoring land through an example in Afghanistan. He explained how technological solutions, like capturing water and seeds from run off in rain, were not effective alone in saving the watershed or in land restoration. They need to be coupled with programmes that involve villagers and change unsustainable behaviours, such as stopping collection of firewood from that land or preventing excessive grazing of animals.

Dr Buono stressed that changing people’s behaviour was one of the largest challenges of the century. ‘Over 50 per cent of all water projects fail.’ He said ‘This is not surprising because these projects do not put people at the heart of the project. Our attempt in our programmes is exactly the opposite.’

(Photo: Louisa Meury)
(Photo: Louisa Meury)
Sowmya Somnath, P.E., Water Sanitation and Hygiene Programme Director, WMG/Grampari, is working with health and environment centres, focussing on water sanitation and hygiene issues. In India alone, more than 1000 children die every day from diarrhoea. Almost half of these deaths can be prevented by hand washing with soap. In 2006, the Indian Government lost $53 billion (six per cent of the country’s GDP) to inadequate water and sanitation. She also stressed that health is central for enabling access to the global economy.

‘For every dollar that you put into water sanitation projects, you get an investment of eight dollars in return. That’s pretty big,’ she remarked. She listed some effective solutions and initiatives to tackle these problems. For instance, only hand washing with soap reduces diarrheal morbidity in half. Comparing the costs of different interventions, she mentioned that cholera immunizations cost $1,600 to $8,000 per person whilst hygiene promotion with soap costs three dollars per person. ‘So, what’s the problem?’ she wondered. ‘We know the issue, we know the solution. The problem is hand washing with soap is not a practice. It’s incredibly difficult to change people’s behaviour. Promoting correct behaviour is really key to, and at the heart of, sustainable development.’

Sophie Durut and Yasin Choudhary