Striving to Make our Relationship with Nature More Harmonious – Eritrea Ministry Of Information – Eritrea Embassy Geneva, Switzerland

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Although Eritrea is certainly far from the largest in terms of geographic area (covering a total area of more than 124,000 km²), it has a very diverse flora and fauna, both on land and in the sea. Among the country’s most important ecosystems are the coastal marine and island ecosystems of the Red Sea. The waters off Eritrea’s large constellation of islands and its extensive coastline – which at approximately 3,300 km long (inclusive of its more than 350 islands) makes it one of the longest in all of Africa – contain over 1,100 fish species and 44 genera of hard coral, resulting in one of the highest recorded levels of endemism and species diversity for a water body. Remarkably, around 18 percent of fish species and 20 percent of coral species are reported to be endemic to these waters. As well, between 380-400 kms of the Eritrean mainland and islands coastlines are occupied by mangrove forests, with three of the seven mangrove species present in the Red Sea found along the Eritrean coast.

Turning to land, Eritrea has a unique northern African elephant population, and the world’s only viable population of free-ranging African wild ass (donkey). The country is also home to a number of other globally rare and endangered species, such as the Nubian Ibex and several gazelles (Dorcas and Soemmering). Several years ago, a long-missing gazelle species, the Eritrean Gazelle, was also rediscovered after nearly 90 years.

In addition, while a number of surveys are ongoing, it is believed that there are between 550-600 bird species in Eritrea (comprising a mix of resident and regular seasonal migrants). In recent years, studies have also recorded more than 10 reptile species (mainly lizards) in Eritrea. Excitingly, one species of amphibian, the Asmara Toad, previously thought to be extinct was rediscovered less than a decade ago, while the Eritrea Side-neck Turtle, a species found only in Eritrea and that had been feared extinct, was observed again several years ago.

Eritrea’s plant and agricultural biodiversity is also considerable. The country is the center of origin for several field crops and there are clear indicators of rich genetic diversity both in cultivated and wild forms. Moreover, the Northern and Southern Red Sea regions of the country are home to some of the last remaining tropical coniferous and broad-leaved forests along the Horn of Africa.

Despite this great richness of diversity, due to several factors – such as several decades of war and human-induced pressures accumulating over many years – the flora and fauna resources in Eritrea were adversely affected. However, concern and regard for the natural environment runs deep in the country and efforts to develop a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment are longstanding.

Prior to independence, for example, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) took progressive steps to promote environmental protection and conservation. Decades later, in 1994, shortly after formal independence, the country’s National Charter, adopted in the historic city of Nakfa, also set it out as a priority. Specifically, it states that, “We are committed to economic growth, but in conjunction with social justice and the protection of the natural environment.” The Charter also declares that one of the country’s objectives is to gradually, “[B]uild a strong national economy, based on appropriate agricultural, industrial, commercial and other services, which satisfies the needs of our people, develops our own resources, [and] enables responsible utilization of the natural environment and resources.”

Reflecting its deep commitment, Eritrea has become a signatory and party to a number of conventions and international agreements relating to the environment, wildlife, and biodiversity conservation. These include: Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 1973; United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992; Convention on Biological Diversity; United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa, 1994; World Heritage Convention, 1972; Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2000; Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, 1979; Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1997; Paris Agreement, 2015; Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, 2012; Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010.

A range of tangible steps have also been taken. Tree planting and terracing are regularly conducted to address land degradation and deforestation (hundreds of millions of seedlings have been planted since independence), while a number of projects are also in place to conserve, restore, and enhance natural areas, including regular community sanitation campaigns involving the participation of communities, students, and youth groups, as well as water and soil conservation programs. The government (consistent with actions taken by the EPLF in past decades) has also banned the hunting and trapping of wild animals, combated trafficking in wildlife, declared areas of the Red Sea coast as protected marine reserves, and set aside large parts of the country as protected national parks.

Another encouraging initiative has been the effort to combat pollution from plastic bags. In early 2002, plastic bags were banned from Asmara, following bans in other large urban areas, including Keren and Dekemhare. Then in 2004, the government enacted a national legal notice to ban plastic bags throughout the country. The ban, which came into effect nationally in January 2005, outlawed the import, production, sale, or distribution of plastic bags, and was characterized by stiff fines (mainly directed at producers and distributors). The step to ban plastic bags made Eritrea one of the first countries in all of Africa, and one of the few anywhere in the world, to do so.

Beyond the enactment of a legal notice, various ministries and organizations have worked together to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment and the significant damage caused by plastic bags. Early on, community administrators discussed how bags were being eaten by goats, cows, and sheep, causing many to die, and thus helped increase support for the move among numerous rural communities and farmers. As well, national radio, television, and newspapers promote positive environmental habits, while young Eritreans continue to be taught about the need for sustainable consumption and recycling.

Although plastic bags were once highly popular and ubiquitous throughout the country, Eritreans have generally responded positively, while local authorities conduct occasional checks of stores and other businesses to ensure that they are not using plastic bags. Today, Eritreans use cloth, nylon, or straw bags, which tend to be locally manufactured (thus supporting the local economy), and many of the problems associated with plastic bags – such as the blockage of drains and water pipes, spread of disease, deaths to farm animals and marine wildlife, pollution of the soil and general environment, and contribution to a bleak and disheartening visual landscape – have been dramatically reduced.

Ultimately, in addition to being an important pursuit in itself, protecting wildlife, biodiversity, and the environment is critical to our own nation’s growth, development, and well-being. It is incumbent upon all of us to play our part in making humanity’s relationship with nature a more a harmonious one.

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