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The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region has diverse socio-ecological landscapes, as well as a strategic edge on the Red Sea and Western Indian Ocean. The region has more than 6,960 km of coastline with the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Toudjoura, and the Red Sea. This is a massive resource, providing immense socio-economic benefits to the citizens of the region and beyond. The region has huge Blue Economy potential that is generally under-exploited. Traditional sectors such as fisheries, tourism, mineral extraction, and marine and river transport are showing evidence of significant development capacities while emerging sectors such as aquaculture, marine biotechnology and bioprospecting, desalinization, and renewable energy are currently given low attention and require.

Through the Blue Economy (BE) initiative, IGAD, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), is implementing a project that has resulted in areas around improving Blue Economy governance in the IGAD Member States, the health of marine and aquatic ecosystems, and the capacity development of Member States to sustainably utilize the Blue Economy resources and services. IGAD has developed a 5-year Blue Economy Strategy (2021 – 2025) and Implementation Plan (BESIP), aligned with Africa’s Blue Economy Strategy, and it was adopted by all IGAD Member State Ministers in charge of BE coordination in April 2022 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

IGAD has also supported all its member states to develop their national Blue Economy Strategy aligned to the IGAD regional BE Strategy as well as the African Union BE Strategy. While developing the national BE strategy for Member States, government officials, academia, civil society organisations, and community representatives were involved in the process from the inception workshop all the way to the final validation of the national BE strategies. Since BE is multi-sectoral, Blue Economy coordination platforms have been established, i.e., at the IGAD regional and national levels. At the regional level, a project steering committee was established whose membership includes senior government officials from ministries in charge of the Blue Economy in all IGAD Member States. At the national level, a national platform has been established whose membership is drawn from the different government departments and sectors related to the Blue Economy, and other national stakeholders such as academia and civil society.

Recently, the BE Section under the Agriculture and Environment Division of IGAD commissioned a study on the assessment of marine biodiversity in four IGAD coastal countries (Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan). The study revealed the status and also identified critical marine and aquatic environmental issues affecting biodiversity. This study showed that all IGAD Member States have put in place some kind of institutional and legal framework, with the mandate of conserving and managing marine and coastal biodiversity resources mostly assigned to a lead institution. The legal frameworks for sustainable management of marine and coastal biodiversity resources stem from the policies and strategies developed at global, continental, regional, and national levels.

Some of the key recommendations of this study that need to be undertaken to secure diverse, resilient, and productive marine and coastal ecosystems to support the sustainable socio-economic development of the region are:

  • Enhance cooperation among the IGAD member states and beyond to develop a resilient Blue Economy in the region and establish a healthy and resilient ocean to better protect and manage its biodiversity, habitat, and marine ecosystems to ensure the provisioning of ecosystem goods and services for the survival of current and future generations.
  • Establish better coastal and marine data, information, and monitoring systems to improve knowledge of the ocean’s physical and biological changes for informed decision-making. In this regard, promote the use of GIS and Remote Sensing as well as drone technologies, to ensure organized data collection and analysis. Facilitate the free flow of information among all stakeholders, both governmental and non-governmental.
  • Promote and implement marine spatial planning as an important tool to improve the management of marine and coastal resources.
  • Strengthen existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and promote to establishment of new MPAs with restricted or prohibited human activities to meet the new Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework threshold of 30% and as nature-based solutions to climate change.
  • IGAD, sister RECs (regional economic communities), and the AU should work hand in hand with all global actors to ensure a productive, safe, predictable, and accessible ocean where society understands and values the ocean in relation to human well-being and sustainable development.
  • Establish a mechanism for regional censorship of the loss of marine biodiversity, particularly in transboundary marine and coastal areas/waters.

Furthermore, IGAD has also conducted a source-to-sea inventory of pollutants (plastic and chemical) in four coastal countries (Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan). The assignment involved analysing the extent of chemical and plastic pollution in the IGAD coastal countries based on the frame of ‘from source to the sea’; assessing existing legal and institutional frameworks for management and control of marine pollution; and proposing mitigation and fitting changes for improved management and control. The main focus of this study was actually on plastic pollution. The study showed that plastic pollution of the marine environments in the IGAD region is driven largely by rapid urbanisation and improper disposal, especially of single-use plastics. The accumulation of plastic materials presents a real risk to people’s health and to the health of both terrestrial and marine animals. It is also becoming the leading cause of land degradation as well as coastal aquatic environment contamination.

The four IGAD coastal Member States have made considerable efforts to address the environmental management deficiencies by embracing a vast array of statutory instruments to address the environmental issues pertinent to plastic pollution in their respective marine environments. However, the laws, policies, and regulations are still insufficient to address the plastic pollution menace. The study recommended that IGAD establish a regional framework for monitoring plastic pollution emissions in marine environments. This framework will involve establishing an inventory of the plastic pollutants in each of the four Member States. The inventory will be about identifying sources of plastic pollutants and periodically assessing the volume of emissions in relation to production activity and other emission factors. The framework will need to have a reporting requirement so as to inform both local, national, and regional action and policymaking for plastic waste reduction and pollution mitigation. The region’s plastic pollution monitoring framework will also involve periodic assessments of the efficacies of local, national, and regional policies, such as bans or taxes on single-use plastic items. The framework will need to have harmonised guidelines for emission inventories to allow regional and international comparability of the data and agreement on follow-up action on plastic pollution.

In a nutshell, the commitment of IGAD towards the sustainable use of the oceans and seas through the newly emerging Blue Economy approach is remarkable, and we believe that it is serving as a model for others on the continent. Together with our Member States and other stakeholders, the IGAD Secretariat has established a BE platform for information sharing for purposes of enhancing the socio-economic development of the region. Long live our oceans!

World Ocean Day, annually celebrated on 8 June, is a day dedicated to recognising and acknowledging the fundamental importance of the ocean to humans. During the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, a proposal was made to have the day dedicated to the ocean. The day was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2008 paving way for the annual awareness raising about the importance of oceans and mobilising global action for their preservation. It catalyses collective action for a healthy ocean and a stable climate. World Ocean Day 2024 has been themed “Awaken New Depths.” This day, therefore, is critical in awakening our conscience towards the sustainable use of ocean resources.

Written by:

Dr. Wassieh Anteneh, Senior Blue Economy and Fisheries Expert, IGAD Agriculture & Environment Division.
Simon Oswan, Knowledge Management and Learning Expert, IGAD Agriculture & Environment Division.

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