Alt text for imageThe impact of climate change and climate variation presents hurdles in addressing the Gambia’s environmental challenges which is a prerequisite for economic development. (Photo credit: UNDP in The Gambia)

The Gambia is a signatory to the key Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The country has also ratified the Kyoto Protocol committing her to the sustainable management of the environment.

Given that the rural poor depends on the availability of natural resources for their livelihoods, a nexus of issues closely links poverty alleviation and environmental protection, and efforts to conserve natural resources and reduce pollution may not succeed without opportunities for local people to feed themselves. The environment poverty nexus coupled with the impact of climate change and climate variation on key sectors of the Gambian economy (forestry, fisheries, agriculture, water resources, energy, etc.) present hurdles in addressing the Gambia’s environmental challenges which is a prerequisite for economic development.

Conscious of the need to safeguard our natural resource base, the National Medium-Term Development strategy-PAGE (2012-2015) has a goal to conserve and promote the rational use of the nation’s natural resources consistent with the overall goal of sustainable development. Energy is key driver of growth and economic development and therefore ‘access to energy by all’ forms a central pillar in all national development efforts.

The Country Programme Action Plan (CPAP)-2012-2016 sees energy and environmental issues as cross cutting issues and is mainstreamed in all the governance, inclusive growth and livelihood interventions. The overall goal is to ensure sustainable management of the environment and facilitating energy access by all in responses to National development priorities and the UN Secretary General’s call for ‘access to energy by all’. Under the CPAP second strategic objective, Sustainable livelihoods security for disadvantaged groups are enhanced through the promotion of income diversification opportunities and better management of environmental resources.

The Gambia, like many developing countries, depends on Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) for its development. This requires the judicious use of environmental/natural resources, particularly environmental goods and services for sustenance and livelihoods to satisfy basic human needs such as food, shelter, clothing and health among others. The drive towards satisfying these basic human needs, particularly in the face of a rapidly increasing human population, is accompanied by unprecedented natural resources over exploitation and degradation. In the Gambia, about 50-60% of the forest cover has disappeared together with associated species (fauna and flora) mainly due to human interference with the environment as a result of domestic pressures such as poverty, inequality, isolation, policy responses etc. This state of affairs threatens not only The Gambia’s food security, but equally basic access to portable water and economic development, as well as locally significant biodiversity (species, genes & ecosystems) on which people’s livelihoods depend.

The environment situation is further compounded by the impacts of climate change and climate variation, all of which put together seriously threatens the key sectors of the national economy and has the potential to undo the development gains achieved over the years. The unprecedented erratic rains we have been witnessing over the years (2006-2013) have led to serious destructions of vital infrastructure, property and even loss of life as well as increases in disease incidence and change of epidemiology. Failure of the rains have led to serious drought, crop failure and food insecurity amongst others. This really presents hurdles to national efforts to attain the MDGs, Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2 (PRSP 11) and others. The need to mainstream environmental considerations into national development policies, plans and strategies therefore, becomes urgent.

To this end, UNDP support started in earnest in 2007 under the project title: “Capacity Development for Achieving Environmental Sustainability” for one year (2007), with small, isolated and fragmented activities such as:  Enforcement of the anti-littering law/regulation, awareness raising on issues of the environment, provision of dustbins for refuse collection, revision of Gambia Environment Action Plan (GEAP) & State Of The Environment Report (SOER) etc. The terminal evaluation report of the above project recommended the need for a programmatic approach to address environmental issues, if any visible impact is to be made on the ground.

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