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Climate Talks: Communities as Stewards, Climate Change & Migration in Liberia.

In Conversation with E. Abraham T. Tumbey Jr, Program Coordinator UNDP

E. Abraham T. Tumbey Jr is a climate expert from Liberia. He works with the UNDP as a Program Coordinator in Inclusive Group and Sustainable Development Pillow. Our team member Olivia Previous Livingstone has the opportunity to interview him to discuss possible solutions to climate-induced migration in Liberia. Here we share some key insights from the interview.

Climate change has become a global issue and the impacts are being felt all over the world. What do you suggest can be done to curtail the impacts of climate change in Liberia and reduce the occurrence of climate induced migration?

The impacts of climate change has already been widespread across Liberia and coastal communities are at the front line of the climate crisis. Every year now and then you find hundreds of Liberians being removed from their dwelling places as a result of coastal erosion. People are losing livelihood and income. For example, you have nine of the 15 counties of Liberia along the coast and most of these people survive on the fishing industries and other livelihood associated with coastal areas. So as a result of Costal erosion, a lot of them are often pushed to move beyond their current areas of residence.

In terms of solutions and the way forward, UNDP has been supporting Coastal communities extensively. Recently we worked with the people of New Kru Town in constructing what we called a coastal defense is intended to kind of put a halt to the current scourge of Coastal erosion which has caused hundreds of people to move. Currently, as we speak, the government of Liberia, working along with UNDP, has just secured additional funding from the Green Climate Fund to construct another coastal infrastructure in the West Point communities to be able to protect those areas from the continuous cost of sea level rise. But all of what I'm talking about are basically what we call engineering based cost of adaptation.

What are some of the long-term solutions to addressing climate change in Liberia?

The long term solution to Coastal erosion goes beyond just the engineering aspect.. There's something called community based adaptation. Communities have to be mobilized to stand in the front line using the resources they have within their means to be able to protect themselves. If you note, historically the coastline of Liberia was lined with coconut trees, mangoes and other trees, species that kind of serve as a natural defense against coastal evolution. During the course of the war, a lot of those natural defences were destroyed because of people hunting for food and using the trees for other things.. So as we now move into living in reality with climate change, it is good to work along with communities to build their capacity to make sure that communities are able to engage in planting trees along the coastal area again.

When it comes to adaptation, people must be informed. People must understand the risks associated with living in certain areas along the coast because if people are aware of the risks that they face they can inform them in terms of taking concrete action. So, fortunately for Liberia through the early warning system project, we do now have a lot of information around weather, information around sea level rise, information around the risks that such pose to communities.

The next thing is to make sure that there are adequate coastal management plans in the country to make sure people are constructing houses along the coast consistent with those plans because those plans and strategies will ensure that certain areas are off limits restricted from people constructing those areas. Because if an area is below sea level and exposed heavily to the potential coastal erosion. You cannot have people building in those areas.

“When it comes to adaptation, people must be informed. People must understand the risks associated with living in certain areas along the coast because if people are aware of the risks that they face they can inform them in terms of taking concrete action.”

What are effective ways of engagement for community-based adaptation?

But to be able to do that you need to work with communities to ensure that they are part of the plan. Make sure that community structures are mobilized to use the best available community based adaptation approach to ensure that communities are not constructed in flood or erosion prone areas. Because the cost of engineering based coastal defense adaptation is very high, just West Point alone will cost close to thirty (30) million dollars. But in the long term, if communities start to plant coconut trees, almond trees, and start to reforest the Mangrove wetlands, in the long term these will serve as a natural form of protection for the communities, because, the communities that live along the coast, one of the reasons why you find them there is because these are basically fishermen and for decades now these are the same people who have been cutting down mangroves and limiting the potential of the mangrove ecosystem to support fisheries.. So, as a result of human activities and already existing coastal erosion, you realize that all of our communities are at risk.. So we now need to revert into using the communities as stewards because whatever happens in the environment affects them directly. So if they are the ones driving community-based initiatives for protecting the coast, for reinforcing the coast with vegetation to offer natural defense, you will realize that in the long run, it can provide a robust solution.

"We need to make sure that community structures are mobilized to use the best available community-based adaptation approach ... we now need to revert into using the communities as stewards because whatever happens in the environment affects them directly."

What can be done in Liberia to support those who have been displaced, particularly women and children, who had to relocate from their previous communities due to climate change.

So that is actually a critical area because these people lives have already been shattered. These people have known no other source of livelihood or income apart from fishing. So in terms of supporting them moving forward there has to be an approach that takes into consideration capacity building. Capacity building to an extent where there's a possibility that some of these people could now move into some alternative form of livelihood but that has to be demand driven. So it's about sitting with them, having a discussion about what are their plans moving forward, what are other alternative areas where they think they can adapt in terms of where some of them could potentially want to go into other businesses, agricultural or coastal based activities that allow them to get income. But as II said, that has to be demand driven and has to be informed by detailed consultation with these people.

The next thing is that these people, a lot of them, particularly women, have been involved in trading fish along the coast. So relocating them to other areas that do not afford them similar condition it's like taking a fish and putting it on a dry island. So there has to be a way of reintegrating those people into those communities or close to those communities to ensure that they are able to re-engage with livelihood activities for which they are very familiar.

And it's important that their development partners, including the government and the community actors, work to support these people because a lot of them are already living below the poverty line, their income was already very marginal. So, with the shock that they experience as a result of coastal erosion and the migration itself, they are barely left with anything.. So there has to be a program that is able to provide them some start-up grants, and some incentives that allow them to kind of recover from the shocks of migration that resulted from the coastal erosion or whatever shock that caused them to move from one place to another.

The interview was undertaken by Olivia Previous Livingstone, team member SEEK under the collaboration of CEU - OSUN Science Shop. Click here to watch the interview.

SEEK's Climate Talks Series is part of the project "I am Because We Are: Our Climate Stories", and covers discussions with migration and climate experts and activists to explore measures and actions to work towards climate justice for all. The project is realized with the support of Haella Foundation, Central European University, and OSUN Science Shop.

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