Major Environmental Challenges

If you can imagine a land vulnerable to a wide range of natural and man-made hazards that is constantly exposed to extended annual and seasonal droughts; a country facing water scarcity, urban fires fueled by droughts and exacerbated by precarious construction materials; frequent and intense flash floods; active volcanic activity and recurrent earthquakes of high magnitudes usually ranging between 4 and 5 on the Richter scale; a land where a third of the population lives in environmentally high-risk urban settings; a country that has 35% of its economy vulnerable to natural hazards; a land where 71% of the total population lives in cities, of which 58% live in the overcrowded capital city, with overstretched infrastructure and services, as well as scarce job opportunities, then you can easily picture Djibouti.

Djibouti is a small, low-income country located in the Horn of Africa where natural hazards and scarce water resources force the traditionally nomadic people of the country to migrate to urban areas. The growth of the urban population leads to the sprawl of informal settlements, mostly in high-risk areas. In 2013, only about 44% of the population in the capital had access to domestic water installation, and less than 60% had access to legal electric connection. In addition, the poverty rate is high; absolute poverty in Djibouti city is estimated to be 30%, whereas 70% of the population living outside the capital is poor. Human Development Indicators and access to services are also low.

Though, job creation is critical for Djibouti’s long-term growth and poverty reduction, about 26% of the population aged 15 and above actively seeking for work cannot find a job, as indicated in the Government statistics for 2012. As for the working-age population, about 48% are unemployed. Women are affected disproportionately by unemployment whereby only 35% of women participate in the labor force, and often, many are employed in risky and insecure informal sector jobs such as “khat” redistribution.

Djibouti is a country that has outstanding environmental assets, which require more protection. These include a remarkable marine and terrestrial biodiversity with an endangered flora and fauna including but not limited to corals, mangrove forests or breeding whale sharks. The country is also host to a number of innovative renewable energy projects like solar, wind and sea power generation.

In this context, it is quite clear that an intervention is needed to address the natural environmental challenges as they have an economic, social and environmental impact, most importantly it will lay the foundations for more coherent environmental, urban and disaster risk policies. Eco-tourism development, for instance, could be a good way to meet the country’s employment needs while at the same time promoting sustainable environmental conservation.

The Beahrs ELP provided me with the tools and skills required to meet environmental goals including poverty reduction in my country through environmental leadership. This program gives me the confidence and the ability to launch environmental initiatives once I return to Djibouti. I truly have the feeling that everything can be possible through good partnerships and collaboration.

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