Stories tagged east Africa

Dec
13
2006

Eritrea, an east African nation bordering Ethiopia, announced Monday a plan to protect its entire coastline. This is the first nation in the world to make such a bold step towards environmental protection. Eritrea will preserve 837 miles of mainland coast and 1,209 miles of coast around 350 islands.

Currently, Eritrea’s dry coastal plains are largely undeveloped, except for two large cities including its capital, Asmara. The Eritrea Coastal Marine and Island Biodiversity Conservation Project (ECMIB) will create a 330-foot buffer along the coast protecting against future development. Inland areas that are part of the Red Sea watershed will be preserved, and places of ecological importance will be placed under permanent protection as national parks and reserves.

Solving environmental problems is typically a luxury developing nations cannot afford. The little revenue their government generates must be used for economic development and building infrastructure. Still, developed nations, such as the US, continue to learn that it is more cost effective to prevent environmental problems than to fix them. Even more difficult to measure on an economic scale is the cost of ecosystem services, such as clean water. Cities spend billions dollars on water treatment facilities to perform a function that a healthy ecosystem would provide for free. By protecting their coastline and watersheds, Eritrea is protecting against environmental disasters, such as flooding, and guaranteeing that many ecological services will be maintained.

Eritrea is plagued with many of the typical problems of developing nations in east Africa. After a 32-year war of independence from Ethiopia, which ended in 1993, they fought with Yemen and again with Ethiopia. Today there is peace, but it is tenuous. The boarder dispute that ignited its most recent fighting with Ethiopia is still unresolved. These issues are compounded by other problems. Two-thirds of the population needs government assistance to provide enough food for their family. Any economic progress is slowed due to the large proportion of Eritreans who are in the army, rather than the workforce.

Still, with a host of social and economic problems, Eritrea has made an unprecedented step towards environmental protection. They realize that their current problems will only worsen with continued ecological degradation. Severe droughts and other natural disasters caused famine and economic decline in east Africa between 1974 and 1984. Protecting the Eritrean coastline will protect more than just the environment. It is a cost-effective and necessary effort to protect the country and region.