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Rebuilding relationships over natural resources in Darfur

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Over 2,000 people from the local community attended the launch of the second phase of the Wadi El Ku project in Darfur. Photo: UNEP

Every year on 19 August, World Humanitarian Day offers the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations an opportunity to celebrate the daily work of humanitarian responders worldwide and recognize their dedication to helping others. World Humanitarian Day also gives us pause to reflect on how to continue improving the humanitarian response to climate change and complex emergencies.

Here we report on how a flagship United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-led project in Darfur has improved the livelihoods of over 100,000 people and brought communities together to better manage limited natural resources.

Across Sudan’s arid Darfur region, water has always been one of the most precious commodities. Without it, life literally trickles to an end.

With climate change, the availability of water for farming and living has become more unpredictable. Rainfall has been erratic, and temperatures are rising higher, leading to food shortages and conflict as farmers and herders compete for scarce natural resources.

“Water is a priority anywhere in north Darfur. We sometimes have only one shower per year, and often, as little as between 150–200 mm of rain a year,” said Mohamed Siddig Lazim Suliman, who works on a UNEP project on water resource management in Darfur.

Drought is not always the problem. Heavy rains can also bring misery – and death. When the ground has been baked dry over long hot months, it cannot absorb sudden downpours. When the water comes, it runs off in flash floods, barreling down dry riverbeds, sweeping all before them. In North Darfur alone, more than 40 people have drowned since last year in such incidents.

The damage caused by climate change is compounded by the region’s troubled history. Conflict between communities tore Darfur apart in the early 2000s, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Many never dared to return to their home villages.  This put great strain on local environments where they chopped down trees for firewood, reducing forest and plant cover.

Solutions that hold water

But there are innovative, nature-based solutions to tackle Darfur’s environmental issues. These are being put in place by UNEP and partners in Wadi El Ku near El Fasher – the capital of North Darfur state – where Mohamed Siddig works.

This initiative has constructed weirs to conserve rainwater and regulate it when the floods come. It has been in place for seven years and has won plaudits for making residents’ lives more sustainable and reducing conflict between the nomadic herders of camels, cattle and goats and farmers.

From the beginning, UNEP and project partners worked closely with the local communities, encouraging parties to come together to build the weirs, which allow constant flow of water, while increasing soil moisture for a variety of crops. About 100,000 people in the 35,000 sq km catchment area benefit.

“This initiative has led to very big changes in the area. All stakeholders are involved and come together to seek consensus. It can take a long time, but it works,” explained Mohamed Siddig.

“The Wadi el Ku project demonstrates why it is critical for UN agencies, donors and the government to work hand-in-hand with local communities on restoring the environment. Ensuring that the region’s residents, especially women, manage natural resources in an inclusive way is helping end mistrust between farming and nomadic communities,” said Gary Lewis, UNEP’s Director for Disasters and Conflict.

Leading by Example

The Wadi El Ku project is now in a second phase, which began in 2018. Ultimately, this will see the construction of several weirs, irrigation channels, community forests, shelter belts and other interventions that will improve the livelihood for 100,000 people while restoring the natural resources.

Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary to adapt project activities to minimize health risks. Radio programs are now used to reach large areas with simple extension messages. Hands-on training takes place outdoors, and communication with government officials relies more on WhatsApp and SMS than in the past. Through many small adaptations like these, the project continues to deliver efficiently while minimizing the risk of infections.

In consultation with the Ministry of Health, messages about COVID-19 preventive measures have also been incorporated in all outreach activities.

The project has paid special attention to involving women in the decision-making processes. They are members of water management committees along with other village representatives. Some have benefited from micro-financing schemes enabling them to buy seeds and equipment.

Fawzia Abdelhamid, Head of Women Development Association Network, one of the project’s partners, said the weirs have led to huge improvements in land irrigation, which means that women no longer having to spend hours every day walking long and dangerous journeys to fetch water.

“Girls used to help their mothers and could not go to school, it affected their health and added to high illiteracy rates. That has ended and women grow so many more vegetables than before,” she said.

Adam Ali Mohamed, 42, has seen a 10-fold increase in his production of watermelons, cucumbers and lentils which he now has to ferry to market by car rather than the occasional donkey trip. It has also seen his income go from around 20,000 Sudanese pounds a month to some 300,000.

“I have opened a shop in El Fasher and bought a house too. One of my sons is studying law at university there too,” he said. “I thank God for bringing this project into my life.”

Below are details on the structure of the project:

Donor: EU, 10 million EUR

Project holder: UNEP

Implementing partner: Practical Action

Practical Action rely on “the networks” for much of the implementation. There are three local networks consisting of 260 community-based organisations:

  • Women Development Association NetWork (WDAN)
  • El-Fashir Rural Development Network (ERDN)
  • Voluntary Network for Rural Help Development (VNRHD)

The project is implemented in close collaboration with the North Darfur state government. The following entities are directly involved in implementing WEK II:

  • Ministry of Production and Economic Resources (MOPER) which is a “super” ministry that includes the previous Ministry of Agriculture
  • Department for Agricultural Extension
  • Department for Environment
  • Department Range and Pasture
  • Department for Animal Resources
  • Natural Resources Directorate
  • Ground Water and Wadi Department (GWWD)
  • State Water Corporation (SWC)
  • Forests National Corporation (FNC)
  • Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC)
  • University of El Fasher
  • University of Khartoum

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FAO launches $138 million plan to avert hunger crisis in Horn of Africa

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A man collects water from a water tank in Kenya. ©FAO/Patrick Meinhardt

More than $138 million is needed to assist rural communities affected by extended drought in the Horn of Africa, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday, launching a comprehensive response plan for the region. 

A third consecutive year of poor rains is posing a major threat to food security in countries already facing natural resource limitations and conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and locust invasions during 2020-21. 

FAO fears that a large-scale hunger crisis could break out if food-producing rural communities do not receive adequate assistance timed to the needs of the upcoming agricultural seasons. 

Millions at risk 

The bulk of the funding under the FAO Horn of Africa Drought Response Plan, $130 million, is urgently needed by the end of February, to provide critical assistance to highly-vulnerable communities in the three most impacted countries: Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia 

Projections indicate that some 25.3 million people will face “high acute food insecurity” by the middle of the year.   

Should the scenario materialize, FAO said it would place the Horn of Africa among the world’s largest-scale food crises. 

Now is the time 

“We know from experience that supporting agriculture at moments like this is hugely impactful – that when we act fast and at the right moment to get water, seeds, animal feed, veterinary care, and much needed cash to at-risk rural families, then hunger catastrophes can be averted,” said Rein Paulsen, the agency’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience. 

“Well, the right moment is now. We urgently need to support pastoralists and farms in the Horn, immediately, because the cycle of the seasons waits for no one.”  

Mr. Paulsen warned that the clock is already ticking as the lean season, which just started, has been marked by limited grazing opportunities for pastoralist families whose livestock will need nutritional and veterinary support. 

Meanwhile, families who rely on producing crops will need seeds and other supplies in time for the Gu planting season that begins in March.  

Water and seeds 

The FAO plan targets 1.5 million of the most at-risk rural populations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. 

For pastoralist families, support will include providing animal feed and nutritional supplements, as well as mobile veterinary health clinics, to keep their livestock healthy and producing milk; transporting water to 10,000 litre collapsible water reservoirs set up in remote areas, and upgrading existing wells to run on solar power. 

Crop-reliant families will receive seeds of drought-tolerant early-maturing varieties of sorghum, maize, cowpea and mung bean, and nutrient-dense vegetables.  The UN agency also aims to arrange for pre-planting land-ploughing services and access to irrigation, as well as training on good agricultural practices. 

Extra income

Cash for work programmes would allow able-bodied households to earn extra income by helping to rehabilitate irrigation canals, boreholes or other agricultural infrastructure.  

Those not able to work due to health or other reasons will receive “unconditional infusions of cash”. FAO said that providing rural families with extra disposable income gives them the means to buy food at market while they wait for their harvests to come in. 

In Somalia, the FAO plan calls for the provision of boats, equipment and training to help coastal communities who do not typically fish, to secure a new and much-needed source of nutrition, building on existing programmes to promote the diversification of livelihoods in the country.   

FAO said if fully funded, the plan would allow for the production of up to 90 million litres of milk and up to 40,000 tonnes of staple food crops in the first part of 2022, putting over one million highly food insecure people on a safe footing, for at least six months. 

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Lithuanians Pave Way for EU’s Legal Migration Initiatives with Sub-Saharan Africa

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The European Union is facing a shortage of specialists. The reality of demographic characteristics and the labour market dictate that legal migration of talents to the EU is an inevitable need. Still, current pathways of specialist migration are not up to par. Thus, the EU is seeking new ways to connect European companies with foreign labour markets, brimming with young, talented job-seekers, and launched a slew of pilot projects to test the waters. Quite unexpectedly for many, Lithuania was the first to join the initiative and its Digital Explorers became one of the most successful in delivering tangible results.

The main goal of the Digital Explorers—contracted by ICMPD on behalf of the European Commission—was filling vacancies in Lithuanian technology companies with Nigerian ICT talent; consequently, it explored models of international collaboration between business and governments, with a non-governmental organisation as an intermediary. In the light of limited previous engagement between Lithuania and African countries, it has truly been a ground-breaking experience, both participants and partners agree.

While the current European mobility tool for professionals, the Blue Card Initiative, provides a simplified set of legal migration requirements for highly skilled workers from non-EU countries, the numbers of attracted talents are low. A recent revision of the Initiative aims to address this by expanding access to the framework for more qualified young specialists, yet amending the regulation might not be enough. A significant bottleneck is real and perceived risks for the private sector related to hiring talent from outside the EU.

“Pathways of legal migration for young specialists into the Union can solve multiple problems, including the shortage of talents in the EU, the lack of opportunities for young specialists in non-EU countries, and address the unknowns faced by the private sector. They could also help building mutually beneficial partnerships with third countries on overall migration management. We are looking for ways to facilitate the process together with EU member states, in line with the New Pact on Migration and Asylum” says Magdalena Jagiello, Deputy Head, of the Legal Pathways and Integration Unit, Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME).

A success story to build upon

Even though EU-based companies willing to hire abroad are inevitable initiators of personnel migration, mobility projects act as catalyzers by providing a missing link between participating countries as well as between business and the public sector.

“While private companies at first were sceptical that this unexpected connection can work, we spoke their language—one that is close to the heart of ICT companies. People in our team had diverse ICT and law backgrounds and firsthand knowledge of the African tech market. Therefore, we managed to address concerns of hiring companies and had answers to key questions, including recruitment and matching strategies, and potential skill level,” says Mantė Makauskaitė, project lead of Digital Explorers.

“We also had a long-term vision that the project will give us the means to build further mutually beneficial connections between Baltic and African ICT markets, and stakeholders were excited about that path forward,” she continues.

Thanks to the Digital Explorers pathway, 26 young men and women have relocated from Nigeria to Lithuania through two mobility models: 1-year employment and 6-months paid traineeship. They joined 13 companies working in ICT, engineering, fintech, and data science markets. Both sides were supported throughout the program—Nigerians went through technical and soft skills training to further enhance their career prospects, while companies were consulted on integrating internationals and diversity management practices. After the program, 18 participants were retained by Lithuanian ICT companies, while others continue their careers in Nigeria, making it a win-win initiative.

“Lithuanian ICT sector is rapidly growing and the shortage of specialists is difficult to address by depending on local talent only. We were willing to hire talents outside of the EU, but needed help at establishing contacts, aligning with prospective employees from third countries, and facilitating the paperwork,” says Vaidas Laužeckas, CEO of Metasite Data Insights.

With help from Digital Explorers, Metasite Data Insights initially welcomed one junior data scientist; after the programme, the company has hired another one. Both of the Explorers started as junior specialists in internship positions and ended up as mid-level specialists in the span of 6 months.

Another Lithuanian company that benefited from a connection to Nigeria, Telesoftas, was deeply impressed by new possibilities offered by the African IT talent market and has made a strategic decision to create a Nigerian branch and opened an office in Abuja with the aims to hire at least 30 engineers by the end of 2022 and up to 100 in 2023. “The potential offered by Nigeria is just too big to ignore. A subsidiary on the spot might act not only as our key delivery center but also as a connection, allowing Lithuanian teams to search for talents to fill their ranks and create new business opportunities” says Algirdas Stonys, CEO of Telesoftas.

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Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry, UNIDO sign €2m agreement

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Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) have signed a €2m agreement to support Integrated Agro-Industrial Parks (IAIPs), funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation. Thes agreement will contribute to the development of the agro-industrial sector and the creation of decent jobs and economic opportunities in the rural areas of Ethiopia. The objective of the new project is to support the inclusive and sustainable development of four pilot IAIPs. Project activities will concentrate on increasing private sector involvement in agro-industry, improving food quality, safety and traceability, and promoting social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

With the support of UNIDO, the Government of Ethiopia has prioritized the establishment of the IAIPs as a primary tool to achieve agricultural modernization and rural industrialization in the country. To this end, the Government of Ethiopia has mobilized various funding sources and development partners for the implementation of IAIPs. The current project is for the development of the four pilot IAIPs, located in Oromia (Bulbula), Sidama (Yirgalem), Amhara (Bure) and Tigray (Beaker). The project is funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation, in alignment with the Italian strategy outlined in the Ethio-Italian country framework 2017 – 2019 which encourages sustainable and inclusive economic growth to ensure full employment and decent work for all, especially in rural areas, as well as promoting partnerships between Italian and Ethiopian institutions to ensure continuity of investment and transfer of technologies.

The signature ceremony was attended by Shisema Gebreselassie, State Minister of the Ministry of Industry, Aurelia Patrizia Calabrò, UNIDO Representative and Director of the Regional Office Hub, and Isabella Lucaferri, Head of the AICS Addis Ababa Office.  

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