By Zika Bobby
Since 2013, the Nigeria Erosion Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP), jointly funded by the World Bank and Anambra State, has been involved in the mitigation of gully erosion challenges threatening the lives and livelihoods of the people of the state like in all other South-East states.
In this interview, Mr. Michael Ivenso, project coordinator of NEWMAP in Anambra, speaks on the overview of the activities, including the number of projects executed in the state and their implications to the affected communities, as well as the resettlement programmes for people whose livelihoods were devastated by gully erosion or NEWMAP’s intervention activities.
What are the reasons that compelled Anambra State to join the NEWMAP project?
Anambra State was one of the pioneer states that actually requested the then President, Commander-in-Chief, for intervention in the very devastating erosion problem as the state and most southeastern parts of the country were experiencing. We are talking about fatalities, loss of lives, critical infrastructures, livelihoods, impact on roads, farmlands, power lines, schools, churches and what have you. So, for us, it became a matter of life and death, literally. The state government thought it wise to escalate the intervention request to the Federal Government and Anambra was one of the pioneer states that kicked off this project as far back as 2013 and, over time, several other states have joined.
Simply put, we were basically ravaged by erosion and other forms of land degradation; the state thought it wise to seek assistance from the Federal Government and other development partners to support this programme.
Would you say the state has been able to achieve the objectives of joining NEWMAP?
We have not only achieved them but we have exceeded the target that was 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 flipside, as well its human activity that actually causes erosion and, therefore, having the right programme and 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. Women and children are critically impacted, so we thought it wise to include the 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 soft grants to enable them re-establish businesses to support themselves, and that has been extremely successful as part of the programme that we are doing. So, besides the civil works and the physical intervention that you see, hope has been restored and people are once again happy, life is good. So, to that extent, we have really exceeded the target set for ourselves.
As a follow-up on that, what would you say are the key arears where the project has intervened?
The arears are quite several. I would start from the one that is very obvious, which is basically the landscape restoration. Like I said earlier, the reasons why we intervene is because livelihoods, properties, farmlands are affected. The restoration aspect of it is really one of the things that are very visible to people.
The other part of it is the one people don’t really see, which is the human aspect of it. At the last count, we had approximately about 150,000 beneficiaries across the state. We have what we call direct beneficiaries and then we have other people who benefit as part of their connection with the community where we intervene. So, when you link communities together, you make it easier for schoolchildren who would have walked several kilometres to bypass the erosion, as they would now have their time to school cut short from as long as one hour to 15 minutes. If you look at that in itself, it is very impactful; women and girls who also have to go long distances to fetch firewood or go to the market or interact with other members of their community will have their distances significantly shortened. Therefore, we can discuss what we have achieved not only from the physical intervention part of it but also from the changes in lives that we have impacted. Now we also talked about the people who were given some money to re-establish their business and then we talked about the capacity that has been built among the participating MDAs, the institutions that have been developed. For example, this programme has set up the Anambra State Erosion, Watershed and Climate Change Agency, which is specifically tasked with helping to perpetuate and encourage what NEWMAP has done. Therefore, we know the Federal Government and the World bank will always be there.
It is important for the state to acquire this capacity and provide the tools and resources to continue what NEWMAP has started. So, from the physical intervention to the human aspect to the institutional capacity-building itself, I think we have succeeded extremely.
In terms of elaborating on success stories, how you would describe the public’s understanding of the value of this project?
PC – Communication and grass root engagement is one of the critical aspects of this project to the extent that we here in NEWMAP have a engaged a third party institution to actually provide that service to us, these are the focal NGOs. Their task, essentially, is to go to the communities and sensitise them about the causes of erosion, what impacts erosion will have on them, what they do that actually aggravates the formation of gullies and educate them to desist from such activities, for example, sand mining, managing solid waste, blocking drainages, dumping refuse indiscriminately.
We plan to engage with the department of works, the physical planning board on planning our cities, because, if you continue to build indiscriminately without respect for community development rules and regulations, you create an enabling environment for erosion to thrive and grow and, ultimately, devastate the community. That sensitisation is very important not just to the community, our sister agencies and MDAs who participate in NEWMAP will help you to ensure that the regulations that are put in place, the enforcement aspect of it are also maintained. We are also looking at helping to perpetrate the good habit that will help with controlling erosion in our communities, we also talk about farming practices when you disturb the soil the soil becomes loose and susceptible to disintegration when it comes in contact with moisture and so from that perspective we are looking at talking to the community on one end but also talking to other government agencies who were responsible for all forms whether its agriculture, construction, town planning also and therefore we also talk to the leadership of the community that’s very important so we talk to traditional rulers, the Presidents General, religious leaders, school principals and students and we address this different audience in a way that builds the awareness and provides them with enough knowledge and tools to go back to their communities and become our own ambassadors for erosion control.
How would you assess the impact of this awareness on their behavioral change and taking ownership for the sustainability of all this interventions.
I like the phrase their ‘ownership’ because that sensitisation also creates ownership when people understand that this project is for them and you get them involved then the tendency to achieve success in that area is high. That awareness has been successful in very many ways but there are still gaps to be filled and its always an ongoing moving target, the awareness aspect of it never goes away ever continuous, ever present there will always be a need to engage with the community, leadership with their respective MDAs that are part of this government to remind them of the reason why we are doing what we are doing, to remind them that the state is making a huge investment in erosion control and other forms of land reclamation for the benefit of the community and in reminding them you are building a sort of consciousness that people will always remember whenever they want to throw refuse in the drainage, build houses and pave the entire floor without leaving areas for what we call green areas for storm water to recharge the aquifer. So those aspects are critical and therefore sensitization will always be a continuous process.
It’s been largely successful to the extent that we have communities and we have created groups of individuals as ambassadors amongst students, community leaders who help us become the voice of reason amongst the people for imbibing the right/correct practices to help with erosion control.
One critical thing which will have come through in terms of implementation would have been social issues amongst others how have you been able to manage and deal with that.
In terms of experience to deal with issues which result from influx of people when you have a contractor who’s not normally resident in this particular area or part of the country even the community, they are willing to rapport with the community because they are actually working for the community. There are bound to be conflict, there are bound to be issues concerning entitlements, rite of passage and all of that.
NEWMAP has a very robust community management program and outreach that really puts the responsibility on the contractor to protect and to ensure that their staff and workers are not interacting with the community in an adverse manner that’s one, we also make it difficult for them by making them contractually liable with penalties when there are breaches and the other part of it is within the community we create what is called the Grievance Redress Mechanism where communities themselves are the ones overseeing their own grievance handling process because they understand themselves better.
For example, I am not from Obosi, I don’t live there so Obosi people are better equipped to handle issues around Obosi because they know themselves better so we create this community relations mechanism where we have what we call the site committee to help manage things at the site, we have grievance committee and from amongst themselves they choose respective individuals whom they perceive to have some type of integrity and can be impartial when it comes to adjudicating issues concerning them. So it becomes a self-propelling mechanism which doesn’t require the intervention of the state government and it has been successful.
The issues concerning things like gender-based violence luckily for us we have never experienced one of them because we sensitize the community, we took time and created a lot of educational materials and then we have town hall meetings. We have special group sessions with the women group and young girls creating this awareness of who they are, giving them a sense of self pride, warning them of the potential dangers of visitors coming into the community and that way when you provide the tools, knowledge and resources for them to act better then you get to have much success with issues concerning sexual exploitation and gender based violence.
Issues concerning grievances about damage to crops, property or other forms of asset that GRM mechanism actually helps to eradicate that part. For example the contractor’s bulldozer destroys their cassava, the report comes first to the community leaders and they interact with the contractor and come out with some meaningful conversation for the aggrieved person.
In some cases the communities have been so magnanimous to say you know what, this is part of what we are offering in other for us to show appreciation for the work that is going on in our community but the fact we should always have in mind is that our guidelines always ensures that the community are better off with our intervention than before we came.
Coming with my second to the last question what would you perceive as the challenges that was generally faced across the implementation of the project over the last couple of years.
The challenges come in different forms, one of the biggest challenge we have right now is actually the seasonality of this work, which means that erosion work is mostly earth works so during the rainy season the long rainy season that we have there is no much you can do and in some cases sometimes work has to stop. It tends to prolong the construction cycle more than you originally envisaged and therefore create an impression that the project is running longer than it is supposed to be that seasonality can be quite a problem even though you build that into the construction schedule the intensity of rain and the damage it can cause are sometimes unpredictable, seasonality is one of the biggest problems we have with this project but we have ways of making sure that we play catch up. For example, during the very short dry season the construction works speeds up significantly and gets to a point where you are no longer struggling to protect the structures from heavy rainfall that arrives during rainy season. The other problems we have seen come in the form of community disturbances human beings are what they are and so sometimes there are instances where community is aggrieved by certain things whether justified or not and they interfere with the tractors work and sometimes they have to impound their equipment, you have to go into the matter so that work can continue. We also have issues around the ability of the community to see and accept that the ownership component of this project is actually theirs and so part of the community outreach that we spoke about earlier on helps to solve that problem increasingly we have seen less and less of these so we are happy to report that this mechanism is actually working
In terms of time frame when the design for a particular civil works is done to when procurement process is executed and implemented, would you say there is challenges in the regard.
Once again seasonality is also a challenge when you are doing your procurement process, for example: if I do an advertisement for work in sometime in November. It takes me about roughly 3 or 4 months to conclude that, given that you have to give about 8 to 10 weeks for them to respond and then you go through evaluation process back and forth and then there’s a time period for the contractor to come in after the selection process has been done. There’s also a standstill period to allow for complaints or whatever mechanisms that are built in the procurement process which helps to provide confidence to people that participating because it builds confidence when you know you have the ability to make comments or to raise concerns about procurement process, that means the finding partners and owners of the project are very serious about everyone gets a fair hearing that itself also takes to time. That is one big issue concerning the timeline between procurement and implementation and there is also issues between the submission of the final decision and it comes back for approval there is also some timeline. Remember
How does the state intend to sustain the gains from the NEWMAP project?
There’s a part I haven’t really mentioned and that is to really acknowledge the support we have gotten from the state government by HE Chief Willie Obiano the Executive governor has been more than magnanimous, he has provided support for the project and in building sustainability he buys into the idea that what we are doing right must be maintained long after this administration is gone and therefore he was quick to act when they requested him to allow the state to establish an erosion agency. Now think about this if Anambra state’s biggest problem is erosion ecological it will then make sense that it dedicates a particular institution to take care of that ecological problem, the establishment of the state erosion agency was really one of the hallmark of the sustainability plan the state has, it also fell into the administrations over all development plan for the state and hopefully we are expecting that successive government will take this agency and run with it and use it as a platform for other interventions that is going to come in on the future. This is erosion goes away today there is flood, there is going to be climate change issues and increased precipitation. Environment and climate change are going to be with us for a very long time therefore we need an agency that is adequate in resourcing and has the right government backing to be able to deal with this challenges when they come, Luckily for us the agency has been established by law that’s by the House of Assembly and accented to by the governor and now we are in the process of operationalising that agency so that it takes a life of its own and begin to act is an agency of the state to support government as for environmental governance and climate change action is concerned.
In conclusion, what would you consider to be learning points or recommendation for this project going forward?
There are quite a number of lessons learnt with this project, one of the biggest one is the connection between construction and urban development and erosion and gully formation. We found in our studies that a whooping net plus percent in all the gully formation in the last 20 years were as a result of road construction or drainage construction and are terminated abruptly. So the best practice is to terminate the conveyance of the storm water into the nearest natural body of water whether its a stream, a river or reservoir and therefore if you do that you reduce significantly the instances of gully formation. There is need for that synergy between state agencies that where responsible for road construction, dredge construction, farming, for physical planning the synergy to be controlled which is why in Anambra State the governor and his state executive committee has done is to establish a Think Tank, a group of people that would be responsible for examining every master plan for the project, that includes people from this major agencies and everyone at it from the perspective if we are building this road how we ensuring that we are conveying storm water to the nearest body of water and not terminating it abruptly. The other lesson learnt is that waste management is increasingly a menace and a huge problem for public health and not just the environmental aspect of it but also for us now 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 assets. If the volume of the storm has a high velocity what you see is a gully, the texture of the soil in this part of the country is one that is susceptible to erosion when it comes in contact with moisture and therefore the way we treat storm water management will determine how successful we are dealing with gully across the aspects on the state activities works, Agriculture, Planning and Land. All of these agencies must collaborate to be able to ensure that we are making the right plans, we are doing the right things given the existing law and amending the laws to actually address the gaps we see today.