Cabo Verde: Solar panels help communities adapt to drought

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By UN Development Programme

The upcoming Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and the EU-UNDP-World Bank organized World Reconstruction Conference 4, is an opportunity for us to come together and accelerate our implementation of the Sendai Framework and improve our recovery processes. A common theme running through both of these events is inclusion and resilience. DRR and recovery practices aimed at building resilience and fostering inclusion are essential to addressing inequality, a core priority at UNDP. More information on WRC4 here.

White sand beaches, turquoise water, blue skies: these are the images that most people have when picturing the volcanic archipelago of Cabo Verde, which lies 450 kilometres off the coast of Senegal. And yet the country has been struggling in the face of extreme natural phenomena.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are some of the most vulnerable to natural hazards, which can quickly become disasters for nations with less capacity to respond. This can create a vicious circle of inequality.

Less touristy than its sister islands of Sal and Boavista, Santiago island is Cabo Verde’s largest, and most important agricultural centre. But rainfall has been scarce over the past two years, creating endemic water shortages and putting local livelihoods at risk.

Traditionally women make up a significant percentage of farmers. They are the hardest hit by water shortages. “The drought has been horrendous for the past two years. The dam dried up and the water pumps broke. Many families who used to live off farming have moved to the city, looking for jobs. Because production is so little, the prices of vegetables have sky rocketed at the market,” says Ana Rodrigues, a member of one of the women’s cooperatives.

A decade ago, islanders used to grow onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and a variety of fruits, but they’ve had to adapt. Today they grow mainly beans, sweet potato and cassava while the remaining 70 to 75 percent of foods are imported.

Alvinda dos Santos, President of the Community Association, says that soil is getting saltier because farmers take sand from beaches to supplement their land, which in turn leads to declining crop yields.

As the 4th edition of the World Reconstruction Conference approaches, UNDP is showcasing its risk-informed approach to recovery so we can help countries build back better and be more prepared to cope with future hazards.

Working with national and local governments UNDP has been training for how to assess needs after disaster strikes, as well as assessments and preparedness for recovery. Cabo Verde’s national DRR Strategy and Recovery Framework, introduced in 2016, not only contained an in-depth review of all policies, responsibilities and management arrangements but also identified suitable financial mechanisms for rebuilding.

As livelihoods improve, women are beneficiaries

As my mission took me further east, to mainland Africa, the Sahel’s notorious dry heat hit me like a wave the moment I stepped from the car in Simiri after a three-hour drive from Niamey, Niger.

Climate change is threatening the Sahel’s people because it affects crops and food security in an area where most livelihoods rely on small farm agriculture. In Niger, crops are particularly fragile due to desertification, soil degradation and high levels of disease.

Thanks to funding from the Government of Luxembourg, UNDP has over the past five years developed 24 vulnerability maps. With high-resolution satellite images, detailed drought and flood vulnerability and risk maps were produced and validated with local authorities.

UNDP has increased the town’s market garden in Simiri by eight hectares and it’s benefitted around 420 women and their families. “The installation of the solar panels for the water pumping and the set-up of additional water tanks has generated an increase in agricultural production, and subsequently an increase in food intake. The rest we sell at the market which allows us to send our kids to school,” says Fati Djibo, mother of eight.

The villagers are involved in cash-for-work programmes to restore degraded ecosystems and rehabilitate community infrastructure. The economy got a boost because families were able to reinvest their extra money in more business opportunities.

As I was leaving Simiri, about 30 women in their colourful hijabs surrounded us to bid farewell. It was a humbling experience, understanding how much the solar panels and the water tanks had improved those women’s, and their children’s lives, and allowed for a resilient drought recovery. But most and foremost, it inspired me to advocate for an inclusive recovery process where women are empowered and can facilitate change, and marginalized groups get the opportunity to participate in their own sustainable development.

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