Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Vision overcomes division in vulnerable coastal regions

In 1996, UNESCO launched its transdisciplinary project for Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and Small Islands (CSI). While benefiting from earlier achievements, this cross-sectoral initiative draws on the expertise of all UNESCO's intergovernmental and international programmes in the environmental and social sciences, as well as education, culture and communication. By integrating the different actors and elements within a single vision, the project seeks to minimize divisions and contradictory development approaches.

As a follow-up to the global directives of UNCED, the CSI co-operative platform aims at improving the management of resources in coastal regions made vulnerable by urbanization and tourism development, erosion, dredging, flooding and other effects resulting from human actions or natural processes. Thus, it contributes to the implementation of Agenda 21 and related Conventions, including the Convention on Biological Diversity. Here are some of its activities:

Social awareness and coastal erosion in East Africa: Every year, local populations in Kenya, the United Republic of Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar suffer big losses of land and property through coastal erosion. A pilot project has now set out to engage all levels of society in a debate on the importance of reducing liabilities in coastal zones. Public awareness campaigns using techniques from distance education and 'learning without frontiers' will lay the groundwork for a high-profile national seminar. Follow-up initiatives will target teachers at primary and secondary levels.

Chair with a view: A UNESCO Chair in Integrated Coastal Management and Sustainable Development at Dakar University (Senegal), will provide a regional focal point for academic research and training, and a 'first' for Africa.

Sand, sediment and Saloum: In February 1987, a storm breached the sandspit of Sangomar that separates the dark cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the warm currents of the Saloum River estuary, some 200 km south of Dakar. One year after, the opening was 1 km wide. Ten years later, in 1997, it measures 4 km across. A large fish processing plant has had to close, defeated by incursions of sand and sea. The inhabitants of Djiffere keep moving their village inland as the sea advances, but not fast or far enough to prevent the sea reclaiming their houses and fishing gear. All around the lagoon, erosion is isolating the island populations and depriving them of movement except at high tide. With UNESCO's support, a transdisciplinary team for the study of coastal cosystems (EPEEC) is working with the focal population, Senegalese authorities, scientists and engineers to find solutions that respect the environment, yet offer a decent livelihood and quality of life to coastal dwellers.

Tracking change and biodiversity: In preparation is a project to examine ways to sustain coastal productivity while preserving biodiversity in West Africa. The study looks at fish larvae distributions, interactions between commercial species and the environment, and co-operative measures for improving productivity without depleting stocks or harming the surroundings.

Fishermen on the coast of West Africa.

Conserving the sacred and the profane: The village of Yoff, close to Dakar, was settled 400 years ago by the Lebou fishing people who migrated south from Mauritania in the 16th century. Just offshore from the village is the island of Yoff. Yoff is sacred, home to spirits who dwell on the island and protect the villagers. Out of respect for their spirit guardians, who also keep watch over the island's plants and animals, the Lebou shelter their island from outside influence and help to protect it. A study involving village people and undertaken by a local youth association suggests that the Yoff community, with government support, would like their island and the adjacent mainland shore to be nominated for Biosphere Reserve status. This would allow the drawing up of a master plan for the conservation of Lebou cultural traditions and sites, as well as local biodiversity.

Mauiritania's Banc d’ Arguin is on the World Heritage List of wetlands. It contains one of Africa's most productive ecosystems and shelters many migrating birds.
Careful water management allows the desert to bloom.

Extract from: Voices, values and development: reinventing Africa south of the Sahara, UNESCO 1996

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