West Africa has a rich natural resource base that includes soil, forest, rangeland, and both freshwater and marine resources. But increased pressure on these resources from the rapidly growing population is compounded by the region’s vulnerability to climate shocks such as recurrent drought and rising sea levels. Sound natural resource management (NRM) and improved territorial governance are therefore critical for economic development, food security, peace and security in the region.

The USAID/West Africa environment program focuses on climate change and biodiversity conservation, improving access to water and sanitation, and promoting environmentally sound design.

Climate Change and Biodiversity Conservation

The Sustainable and Thriving Environments for West Africa Regional Development (STEWARD) program is improving the NRM of 1.4 million hectares of the Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire. STEWARD assists countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance sequestration of carbon associated with land use, improve the management of forests and reduce emissions from deforestation. The program recognizes that establishing clear land tenure rights is vital for NRM interventions in order to minimize future conflict over resources. STEWARD supported the Manu River Union  (MRU) in an assessment of existing NRM laws across its four member countries plus Ghana, and has directly influenced the implementation of over 106 policies, laws and agreements promoting sustainable NRM. The program significantly advanced trans-boundary conservation policy, law and governance of community forests and agroforestry zones by assisting the MRU to officially establish a trans-boundary conservation area between Sierra Leone and Guinea, supporting the creation of the Gola National Park in Sierra Leone, and negotiating the creation of the trans-boundary forest Peace Park between Sierra Leone and Liberia. Thus far, 1.7 million tons of CO2 (equivalent to .01% of global emissions) have been sequestered as a result of USAID assistance in West Africa.

Gambia-Senegal Sustainable Fisheries Project  

Fish are an important resource for local populations in the region. However, estuarine and coastal environments in this region are subject to heavy human pressure. USAID’s sustainable fisheries project, Ba Nafaa, works with fishing communities and government entities in the Gambian portion of the Canary Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Ba Nafaa helped develop the first two fishery co-management plans in West Africa, resulting in improved management of over 127,500 hectares of the biologically significant coastal zone. The Oyster and Cockle Fishery Co-Management Plan gives exclusive use of the Tanbi wetland to women oyster harvesters. The project also established a micro-credit scheme to advance the business and fundraising skills of the 250-member TRY Women’s Oyster Harvester’s Association. TRY, which was awarded the Equator Prize at the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil in June 2012, will continue these efforts when the project ends.

Land Use Change  

For the first time ever, the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS/AGHRYMET) and its 17 partner countries have “wall to wall” satellite coverage of West Africa. CILSS/AGRHYMET spatial analysis experts and U.S. Geological Survey scientists are training regional scientists and policy makers on how to apply state-of-the-art satellite image interpretation and mapping technologies to identify, analyze and communicate trends in land use over the past 40 years. An atlas on land-use trends in the region has been drafted and will be available in 2014. STEWARD is contributing to the understanding of the carbon stored in West African forests, and has established three Geographic Information Centers in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Water and Sanitation

Poor hygiene behaviors and insufficient access to water and sanitation services have enormous health, economic and social consequences. USAID/West Africa water,  sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities focus on i) accelerating access to improved water supply/sanitation services and improving hygiene behaviors; ii)  improving the sustainability of rural and peri-urban WASH service delivery and scaling this up across the region; iii) building synergies between WASH activities that advance food security, promote sustainable resource management and reduce vulnerability to climate change; and iv) strengthening the capacity to achieve WASH Millennium Development Goals in West Africa. The mission’s WASH activities target rural areas of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Ghana, The Gambia, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone and Togo where water supply and sanitation services are inadequate. Overall, USAID partners have found that less than 50% of water pumps are working in many areas and the water quality at access points is highly questionable and unverifiable, given limited laboratory capacity to conduct proper water quality analysis in remote areas.

To address the enormous capacity building needs, three regional universities were selected as focal points for WASH training: the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering in Burkina Faso, the University of Niamey, Niger, and the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana. Through USAID WASH initiatives, 173,600 people now have improved access to drinking water and 265,600 have improved access to sanitation services. The program has also leveraged parallel WASH investments from other donors.

Environmental Compliance

USAID’s Regional Environmental Compliance Team provides training and technical assistance to ensure that environmentally sound designs and sound natural resource management practices are part of every USAID program in the West Africa region. In fiscal year 2012 alone, over one billion dollars in projects were reviewed, covering all sectors, including Peace & Governance, Agriculture, Health and Trade & Investment, in addition to Environment & Climate Change Response.

Last updated: July 23, 2015

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