Examining human migration and wetlands at the European Development Days Looking at migration in the context of environmental degradation.

The Red Cross EU Office contributed to the presentation and panel discussion of the Wetlands International report, “Water Shocks: Wetlands and Human Migration in the Sahel”, at the European Development Days last Wednesday.

Taking place in a formerly industrial site in Brussels, the European Development Days (EDD) is an extensive gathering of the development community to share ideas and experiences and inspire new partnerships and innovative solutions. It is organised by the European Commission.

The discussion began with the human dimension of the degradation of wetlands. Attention was drawn to the tens of millions of people who depend on the vitality of the Sahel’s rivers, lakes, floodplains and deltas.

“Wetlands are essential for communities as they are part of critical infrastructure,” explained the Chief Executive Office of Wetlands International. Water resources have shaped culture and driven local and regional economies for centuries. Their condition is key to ecological diversity, upon which peoples’ livelihoods depend. Outputs of fish, cattle and crops are directly proportional to the flood extent. In the dry season, wetlands act as a buffer against droughts. According to this report, it is mainly due to lack of water that 20 million people in the region are food-insecure.

The annual crossing of the Niger River by herds is an important cultural event; women from the Mopti area, on the edge of the Inner Niger Delta, wear local ornaments. © Wetlands International.

Wetlands International reason that sustaining and rehabilitating wetlands must be part of resilience strategies, stressing the need for risk informed development. The Head of Sustainable Energy and Climate Change at DG DEVCO accentuated the importance of investing in natural infrastructures, to support sustainable development.

As environmental degradation transcends national borders, with the Sahel stretching from Senegal to Sudan, so it affects people internationally. “Migration policy must work across borders,” expressed the Regional Director of IOM’s Reginal Office for the EU, Norway and Switzerland. The approach needs to be coordinated across regions, while listening to communities.

Within the dotted lines: the Sahel, an international region. © Wetlands International.

Migration from the Sahel is especially pointed, not only because most of the migrants arriving by boat to Italy between January and November 2016 came from this region, but because many people facing return come this region. Their return is especially dangerous with the inhospitable environment, stemming from the degrading state of wetlands.

The possibilities of addressing the needs of people suffering as a result of environmental degradation were elaborated by the Senior Policy Officer at the Netherlands Red Cross and Global Coordinator of Partners for Resilience, Raimond Duijsens. Partners for Resilience is an alliance of humanitarian and environmental organisations, including the Netherlands Red Cross and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre, that works to promote resilience in communities. With its multidisciplinary perspective, the partnership acknowledges that human resilience is linked to ecological resilience. With this understanding, Partners for Resilience integrates climate change adaptation and ecosystem management and restoration into disaster risk reduction projects.

Notably, careful water management has been key to Partners for Resilience activities in Kenya. For example, approximately 42,000 Kenyan livestock farmers directly benefitted from the restoration of the Kuro Bisan Owo hot springs. The knowledge and skills of local people were decisive in the implementation and consequent success of the project, with Mr Duijsens emphasising, “water management requires a community approach”.

What principally came through the presentation is the need to break down the silos between humanitarian and ecological work, to help enable development that is made strong by its sensitivity to the needs of local communities and the environment. Mr Duijsens underlined, “prevention and mitigation of disasters is key to the lifesaving work of the Red Cross”.

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