Wills Agricole’s office is at The Botanical Gardens in Arpent Vert on the lush sprawl near the Seychelles capital, Victoria. This is a flourishing green hilly spread with well-manicured lawns and a vast array of all shrubs, trees and flowers found in the Seychelles. Noisy birds with all manner of chirps and quacks are an all day long accompaniment here with regal butterflies flapping their wondrous colours for the eyes.
Agricole is the Principal Secretary in the Seychelles ministry of environment. But there is more to the easy-going Agricole than the usual government bureaucrat. He is the president of the Western Indian Ocean Coastal Challenge (WIO-CC).
“The Western Indian Ocean – Coastal Challenge is a platform to galvanize political support in the region to combat climate change and sustainable livelihoods.” Agricole says. “It is more or less about protection of biodiversity in a sustainable manner.”
The manifest dangers of climate change such as sea level rise, increased acidity in the oceans, coral reef degradation are a daily experience in Seychelles and other island and coastal nations in the western Indian Ocean rim. Seychelles, Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, South Africa and France administered islands of Re Union and Mayotte are considered as the perimeter that makes up the Western Indian Ocean.
Sometimes in 1998 an unprecedented coral bleaching phenomena occasioned by El Nino hit the entire Western Indian Ocean rim which is an ocean ecosystem that conjoins the eight island and coastal nations damaging corals across the region. This death of corals exposed the region to significant climate related dangers. More intimately it severely affected their economies as reefs are key bulwarks for goods and services that tie in to the economic lifelines of these nations. Studies conducted under the Nairobi Convention Secretariat, which is a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiative in charge of western Indian Ocean gives the bare figures illustrating what coral bleaching threatened. The ecosystem value of coral reefs and mangroves exceeds $16 billion annually. The Nairobi Convention further notes that the region attracts some 20 million tourists annually who bring in $6 billion into the combined regional economy. As a whole the coastal environment supports some 30 million people directly.
In the last five years natural environmentally related calamities such as volcanic eruptions, cyclones, sea level rise and storms have hit Comoros, Seychelles, Madagascar, Re Union and Mauritius. All these have damaged properties, destroyed infrastructure and farms and severely undermined fishermen.
“The adverse effects of climate change and sea level rise constitute immediate threats to the sustainable development of the small island developing states.” Dr Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) says. “The effects of the progressive warming of ocean surface temperatures are already being experienced through the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heavy storms and cyclones. Tourism, fisheries and agriculture which are the main economic sectors of small islands developing states are likely to be negatively impacted by climate change.”
Agricole reveals that it is the inherent sea surges, cyclones and storms dangers posed on human lives, livelihoods and ecosystem survival that prompted the establishment of WIO-CC in 2007 by Seychelles President James Michel.
According to Agricole, one other reason that prompted the setting up of WIO-CC was the forthcoming International Conference on Small Island Developing States (UNSIDS). This will be the third global conference on small island states and it will be held in Apia, Samoa in September 2014.
Shortly afterwards President Michel picked the meteorologist Agricole to head WIO-CC. Agricole who is a meteorologist was picked because of his knowledge and his international climate related working experience accumulated from living in the different places within the rim nations.
Agricole reveals that as compared to other regions, the western Indian Ocean region was seen to be lagging behind in terms of a united political approach in combating climate change and even other intrinsic aspects of island nations. Agricole and his team immediately set out to lobby bilateral partners to support the setting up of WIO-CC. It did not take long as the Mauritius-based inter-islands states’ body, the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) took interest. IOC which brings together all the islands states of Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and France (because of Mayotte and Re Union which are overseas departments of France) with the support of the European Union decided to translate WIO-CC from a concept in policy documents and give it life. According to Natalie Donikian of the European Union delegation to Mauritius, Comoros and Seychelles the EU has earmarked some €600,000 for WIO-CC.
This year alone three meetings aimed at giving WIO-CC political leverage have been held in Victoria, Seychelles and Port Louis, Mauritius. The main difference that WIO-CC has over other small island developing states initiatives is that, it is seeking to enlist the support of mainland countries who share the ocean as a border.
“We cannot just say let us take everything and exploit it. The sea is not just some space for exploitation.” Seychelles Foreign Affairs minister John Paul Adam says. “It is a space for development. And this is where the Western Indian Ocean Coastal Challenge comes in. It is about empowering island and coastal nations to be able to use the oceans sustainably.”
According to Adam, WIO-CC is not closed to island nations but recognizes the ocean as a unifying ecosystem affecting all countries with beaches and share sea borders hence seeking a combined management approach.
WIO-CC is formatted in the same lines as the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI), Coral Triangle and the Micronesia Challenge. The Caribbean Challenge Initiative started in 2006 and had only one nation as a member until 2008 when it grew to five island member states organisation and today boasts of eight island member states. However according to Adam WIO-CC has gone a notch higher by bringing on board coastal nations an aspect that the other two regional oceanic bodies lack. Adam explains further that WIO-CC is primed at consolidating solutions for the environmental challenges and sustainable development facing both island and coastal nations. To do this effectively Adam says political goodwill and leverage is needed.
Agricole has begun the first round touring the island nations seeking for support on making WIO-CC work and develop a 20-year vision for the Indian Ocean region. In the last six months the two have visited Mauritius, Zanzibar and Tanzanian mainland. Mauritius agreed and in the second week of September, Zanzibar also affirmed their political commitment for WIO-CC. Other planned trips according to Agricole include Comoros, Kenya, Mozambique, Madagascar and even South Africa.
“We have now been approached by other Indian Ocean countries who were not in our geographical lens, such as Sri Lanka, Maldives and Socotra.” Agricole says. “The interest shown by other nations show that WIO-CC can marshall solutions needed to combat climate change. Our approach is different from the other small island nations as we consider anyone with a border touching the ocean as a stakeholder in the affairs of our seas.” Agricole says. “We have been consolidating the region to build the much needed consensus before the Samoa meeting.”
Dr Said Hassani of Comoros University in Moroni says that the Indian Ocean island nations must begin to look at the ocean as a regional resource instead of single nations. “We may come from different cultures, political backgrounds and nationalities but when it comes to the environment we share the same ocean.” Dr Hassani says. In Hassani’s viewpoint a regional perspective of the climate change difficulties encountered will enable those nations to learn from one another best practices and also share skills. “A united approach will enable us to appreciate our weaknesses in conservation in the Indian Ocean ecosystem so that we can address them appropriately.” Dr. Hassani says. “We see the Ocean as a unifying factor and since we face the same climate change challenges teaming up with the others helps us bind our mutual desires for better solutions to our people.”
Adam explains that under WIO-CC Seychelles is calling for a rethink of the ocean ecosystem seeking for best practices to face climate change. “To use the oceans sustainably we must create more marine protected areas. It does not mean we must not fish. It means we create more marine protected areas to spawn more fish so that we can earn more from the same amount of fish or from less fish.” Adam says. “This to me is the crux of the ‘blue economy’. And this is linked to climate change. We totally underestimate the impact the impact that climate change has on oceans. Climate change affects the acidity of the oceans which affect the ability of fish to reproduce. This has a huge bearing on food security.”
Dr. Lopes echoes Adam’s sentiments. “Climate change has direct and indirect impacts on food security. By its very nature food security is much a function of domestic production as it is of international trade in food commodities.” Dr Lopes says. “Consequently the impacts of climate change manifested through rise in sea levels and increase in extreme events will directly lead to reduced fish resources and reduced agricultural production in small island states.”
UNECA has initiated climate change adaptation work for island nations in what Lopes defines as “synthesis of knowledge.” According to Dr. Lopes “this will help us to comprehensively put together the existing knowledge and explore new innovative and transformative climate resilient development pathways that will inform policy and strategies.” To this end UNECA is currently building direct partnerships with small island nations to enhance their capacities on climate change responses; disaster risk reduction measures and real time climate data and early warning information systems.
“Through WIO-CC we aim to implement climate resilient development strategies to achieve a strong balance between enhanced economies with improved coastal livelihoods and effective conservation of biodiversity.” Adam says. – By WANJOHI KABUKURU
Supported by Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) – Climate Change Resilience Programme.