While climate change and energy security are two of Europe's headline issues, conditions are such in other parts of the world that food security is more of a primary concern. Nonetheless, the effects of climate change on already marginal environments are clearly causing or aggravating serious social, environmental and economic conflicts. Bearing this in mind, the REC was invited in December 2006 to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to attend a conference on the launch of a Regional Environmental Center/Network for the Horn of Africa (REC/N HoA).
Hanan Mutwakil of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) told conference participants that the ethnic conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, although springing from political causes, is certainly being exacerbated by changes in climate. Such changes have increased desertification, and have forced northern Arab herders into land traditionally occupied by non-Arab pastoralists. Drought, coupled with an increasing birth/survival rate in the region, has led to less land for more people.
Janny Poley of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Ethiopia and a driving force for the new network, told those assembled: "We need to turn the tide of environmental degradation by improving environmental governance throughout the Horn of Africa."
As real initiatives and pragmatic solutions appear to be coming from below (i.e. from civil society and academic institutions), the Netherlands announced that it would support REC/N HoA with EUR 9 million for its first three years.
The REC's HoA network comprises six countries (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan), all of which (excepting Kenya) are listed by the UN among the world's 50 poorest countries.
Focus in the coming years will be on three major environmental management topics: lake and wetlands management; park and buffer zone management; and management of erosion-prone highlands and dry lowlands. The conference focused largely on wetlands: Ethiopia's Central Rift Valley, Kenya's Lake Naivasha and the Sudd Wetland in Sudan were highlighted as case studies of how difficult it is to balance a variety of resource use pressures.
Director for Civil Initiatives Robert Atkinson spoke about the REC's history, structure and achievements over the past 16 years, and particularly stressed the REC's ability to draw from its experience in Central and Eastern Europe in offering support to the fledgling centre. It is hoped that a fact-finding visit from REC/N HoA management to the REC headquarters will further cement this promising relationship.