NEWMAP’s duty is to entrench culture of erosion management, says Ivenso
Michael Ivenso is the Project Coordinator, Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management (NEWMAP) in Anambra state. He spoke with UZOMA NZEAGWU in Awka, on how the agency is sensitising communities to tackle erosion menace and ensure sustainable land use.
How you would describe public’s understanding of the value of NEWMAP project?
COMMUNICATION and grassroots engagement are critical aspects of this project and we engage third party institutions to provide services. These are the Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs), whose task is to sensitise communities on causes of erosion, what impact it would have on them, what they do that aggravates formation of gullies and educate them to desist from such activities, such as sand mining, managing solid waste, blocking drainages and dumping refuse indiscriminately.
We plan to engage state’s Department of Works, Physical Planning Board on planning our cities, because if we continue to build indiscriminately without respect for community development rules and regulations, we create an enabling environment for erosion to thrive, grow and devastate communities. Sensitisation is important, not just for the communities, but Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), who participate in NEWMAP. It will ensure that regulations are put in place and enforced.
We are also looking at creating awareness on good habits that would control erosion in communities, especially farming practices that distort soil and make it susceptible to disintegration when it comes in contact with moisture. From that perspective, we are looking at holding talks with communities on one hand and other government agencies, who were responsible for all forms of agriculture, construction, town planning and leadership of the communities like traditional rulers, Presidents General, religious leaders, school principals and students.
We will address the audience differently to create awareness and provide communities with knowledge as well as tools to become ambassadors for erosion control.
How would you assess impact of awareness creation on people’s behavioural change and ensure project ownership for all these interventions?
I like the phrase ‘ownership’ because sensitisation also creates ownership. When people understand this project, they get involved and the tendency to achieve success in that area is then high. The awareness had been successful in many ways and there are still gaps to be filled.
There will always be a need to engage community leadership with their respective MDAs that are part of this government to remind them why we are doing what we are doing, that the state is making a huge investment in erosion control and other forms of land reclamation for the benefit of communities.
What are the challenges encountered in the implementation of NEWMAP projects over the years?
The challenges come in different forms, one of the challenges, we have is the seasonality of our work, which means that erosion work is earth works, so during the rainy season there is not much we can do and in some cases work has to stop.
The season tends to prolong construction cycle more than originally envisaged and creates an impression that the project is running longer than it is supposed to be. Seasonality can be quite a problem even though you build that into the construction schedules, the intensity of rain and damage caused are sometimes unpredictable. For example, during dry season, construction works increase significantly to a point where we no longer struggle to protect structures from heavy rainfall.
The other problem we have seen comes in the form of community disturbances. There are instances, where a community is aggrieved by certain things, whether justified or not, they interfere with tractors and sometimes, they have to impound equipment, we have to intervene to ensure work can continue.
We also have issues with the ability of communities to accept ownership component of the project. We have now adopted community outreach to solve the problem. Now, we have less of such problems as this mechanism is working.
Anambra is one of the states in the Southeast devastated by erosion. How much has the state partnered NEWMAP?
Anambra state was one of the pioneer states that requested the then President, for intervention in the devastation caused by erosion problem as the state and most southeastern part of the country was experiencing the occurrence of erosion. We are talking about fatalities, loss of lives, critical infrastructure, livelihoods, impact on roads and farmlands, power lines, schools and churches. For us, it became literally a matter of life and death, the state government thought it wise to escalate the intervention request to the Federal Government and Anambra was selected as one of the pioneer states that started the project in 2013 and over time several other states joined.
Would you say, the state has curtailed erosion and achieved its objectives of partnering NEWMAP?
We have not only achieved it, but we have exceeded targets set under this programme, a minimum target of five intervention sites was set as part of our international benchmark. Right now, we are intervening in 13 sites. From that perspective alone, we have met and exceeded our expectations.
More important to NEWMAP is the human aspect of this programme. Basically, I mean erosion impacts human beings on the flip side as well. It’s the human activity that causes erosion and having the right programme, components and intervention activity to support that aspect is very critical. Not only are we reclaiming landscapes and restoring lives, we are also empowering people at the grassroots, women and children are affected by every form of devastation, whether it is civil war, farming, healthcare crisis in this case, erosion and flooding. Women and children are critically impacted, so we thought it wise to include livelihood restoration aspect of this programme.
There are communities with real life cases, where families that were affected by erosion lost their livelihood and farmland, they were given grant to enable them re-establish businesses to support themselves and that has been extremely successful as part of the programme. Besides, with the civil works and physical intervention that you see, hopes have been restored and people are once again happy, to the extent we exceeded the targets set for ourselves.
What are the key areas the project has intervened in?
There are several areas; I’ll start from the one that is very obvious, which is basically landscape restoration. We intervened when livelihoods, properties, farmlands are affected, the restoration aspect of it is one of the things that are visible to people.
The other part of it is the one people don’t really see, which is the human relations aspect of it. As at last count, we have approximately 150,000 beneficiaries across the state. We have what we call direct beneficiaries and other people, who benefit as part of their connection with the communities where we intervene.
When you link communities together, you make it easier for school children, who would have walked several kilometers to bypass erosion and cut school time from one hour to 15 minutes. If you look at that in itself, it is impactful. Women and girls also go long distances to fetch firewood or market or interact with other members of their communities also had their distances significantly shortened.
This is how we achieved physical intervention and changes in lives of people. We also give money to people to re-establish their businesses and build capacity of participating MDAs, the institutions that had been developed.
For instance, this programme has set up state’s Erosion, Watershed and climate change agency, which is specifically tasked with helping to perpetuate and encourage what NEWMAP has done. We know the Federal Government and the World Bank will always be there.
It’s important for the state to acquire this capacity, provide tools and resources to continue what NEWMAP has started from physical intervention, to the human aspect and institutional capacity building.
How does the state government intend to sustain gains from NEWMAP project?
I have to acknowledge the support we got from the state governor, Willie Obiano, who has been more than magnanimous. He provided support for the project and ensures sustainability of the project. He is of the notion that what we are doing right must be maintained long after this administration is gone and was quick to act when we requested him to allow the state to establish an erosion agency.
The thought is that if Anambra State’s biggest problem is erosion, it makes sense that it dedicates a particular institution for ecological problem. The establishment of the state erosion agency was one of the hallmarks of sustainability plan the state has, it also fell into the administration’s development plan. Hopefully, we are expecting successive governments to take this agency, run with it and use it as a platform for other interventions.
Luckily, the agency has been established by law of the House of Assembly and assented to by the governor. Now, the task is hinged on the process of operationalising the agency to support government in environmental governance and climate change action.
What are the lessons learnt and recommendations to enhance future erosion projects?
There are quite a number of lessons learnt with this project; one of the biggest is the connection between construction, urban development and erosion as well as gully formation. We found in our studies that the formation of gullies in the past 20 years were as a result of road construction or drainage construction that terminated abruptly.
So, the best practice is to terminate the conveyance of the storm water into the nearest natural body of water, whether it’s a stream, a river or reservoir and therefore, if you do that, it would reduce gully formation significantly.
There is also need for synergy between state agencies that where responsible for road construction, dredging, construction, farming and physical planning.
What the state government has done was to establish a think tank, a group of people that would be responsible for examining every master plan for projects and how to convey storm water to the nearest water body and not terminating it abruptly.
The other lesson learnt is that waste management is an increasing menace and problem for public health and not just the environmental aspect of it, but also for conserving erosion because when the drainages are blocked, water will now find its way and flows to where is not supposed to. What happens is that, it destroys people’s properties.
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