Funded by the Italian government and UNDP: ENRPA project for the people of Socotra [Archives:2003/53/Health]

December 24 2003

Yemen’s best-kept secret isn’t really a secret. Everybody has heard about Socotra, but few people have ever been or can imagine what it is really like. We’ve all seen picture of the Dragon’s Blood Tree, but Socotra has far more to offer than just rare plants. The fact that Socotra is located closer to Africa than it is to Arabia lands gives this island a unique, hybrid flavour.
Known to ancient Romans as Diascorida, Socotra has been coveted, conquered, and/or colonized by many nations for its strategic location and the valuable incenses that have been harvested there for millennia. Each culture has left its mark in the blood and customs of the people, in their legends, or in some material way. In spite of intense interest in the island over the centuries, Socotra is still one of the least developed places on earth and remains as shrouded in mystery as its granite peaks are shrouded in mist.
With the recent inauguration of the newly surfaced airstrip, however this distinguished land is poised on the edge calamitous change. Presently, the government of Italy and the UNDP are implementing a very vital project in the Island, i.e. “Environment, National Resources and Poverty Alleviation for the people of Socotra Island.” This pictorial reportage sheds light on this important project.
Background and rationale
UNESCO underlined the importance of protecting the Socotra Archipelago through the establishment of a Man and Biosphere (MAB) Reserve and placed the island(s) at the top of the agenda for declaration (UNESCO, 1994, 2000). The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) assisted the government of Yemen (GOY) in the formulation of a comprehensive Biodiversity Conservation zoning plan, which represents the essential pre-condition for the inclusion of Socotra Archipelago in the UNESCO program. The procedure for MAB nomination is ongoing and is expected to be completed by the end of year 2002. The government of Yemen ratified the International Convention on Biodiversity in February 1996. In the same year, the government decree IV declared Socotra as a special natural in urgent need to protection. The decree also called for assistance to formulate a Master plan for development of the Socotra Archipelago. In mid-1997, GEF agreed to fund a project called the “Conservation and Sustainable use of the Biodiversity of Socotra Archipelago” that was jointly managed by the Yemen’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).
The people of Socotra lived in a sound balance with their environment for centuries: due to limited contact with outside world, throughout its history the local population had to be virtually self-sufficient for all primary needs. Socotri people have therefore developed strong traditional rules to protect the marine and terrestrial natural resources they rely upon. The biodiversity conservation efforts of the government of Yemen and the international community have thus found extremely “fertile ground” on the island. The government’s strategy envisages the environmentally sound and sustainable development of Socotra Archipelago, in view of preserving its global value for biodiversity conservation. The population of Socotra lives however in very poor conditions and health and sanitary conditions rank first among the sectors in need of urgent intervention. Main problems are: lack of transport facilities and road network and consequent difficult access to central health structures; high incidence of water-borne diseases, including malaria and amoebiasis; low awareness of the negative impact of environmental conditions on human health; exponential growth of anthropic impact on the environment due to economic development, including tourism; high rate of urbanization with sequent loss of control on grazing animals and change traditional seasonal patterns of range-land use. Moreover, when Socotra became object of international interest, any objective and geo-referenced data on the island carrying capacity and its links to climactic fluctuations and trends, was completely lacking. Taking all this in consideration and under the framework of its wider “Socotra Conservation and Development Program”, they Goy requested the Italian cooperation to design a project aimed at alleviating the poverty levels of the local population. The intervention should focus on the priority issues of health and water management and should work closely with the UNDP/UNOPS GEF Biodiversity Project, to complement and corroborate its achievements and long-term biodiversity conservation objectives. It was therefore agreed that a system approach toward poverty alleviation should be developed, by integrating health issues with the management of ecosystems and their natural resources and services. The Environment, Water, Health and Poverty Alleviation for the Population of Socotra Island Project is implemented in collaboration with the environment with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) of the Ministry of Tourism and Environment and in partnership with the Ministry of Health, local corporation for Water and Sanitation. It is supported by the Italian government and by UNDP. Respective contributions are 620,000 euros and 362,000 euros. The government of Poland also contributed to the project with technical assistance and in-kind donations. Project execution is entrusted to UNOPS and UND, taking also advantage of the existing complex communication, procurement and delivery mechanisms already established under the UNDP-GEF project. Goal objectives and expected outputs
The project’s development goal is to alleviate poverty among the population of Socotra island in sustainable and environmentally effective manner. It fits within the framework of the wider Socotra Conservation and Development Program, and it is closely integrated with ongoing UNDP-EPA Socotra Biodeversity Project. The project is structured in three main components.
The expected end-project situation is the following.
-A network system established to link the Rural Health Centers with the capital town hospital consolidating its capacity to serve the periphery. The Rural Health Centers provided with essential equipment and necessary materials for Primary Health Care activities.
-A strengthened administrative and operational capacity of the existing District Health Office achieved through on-the-job training of existing medical staff, including environmental-health links.
-The professional skills of local medical staff of the Rural Health Units (RHUs) strengthened through the design implementation of a specific training program, focusing on prevailing health problems, such as tuberculosis and malaria and on promoting RHUs collaboration with EPA Extension Offices.
-Comprehensive and updated information on the health situation of the island gathered and organized into a database and associated GIS maps. This to be the essential basis for further GOY and donor-assisted poverty alleviation efforts on the island, linked with the other program components: biodiversity, water resources, etc.
Watershed Management
-An objective watershed-based stratification of the island carried out.
-An integrated watershed management model for one primary pilot catchment, designed and implemented in close consultation with local communities, to represent a visible example of environmentally sound development and with a view to future replication across the island.
-A number of Khareef (small impoundment to collect flash runoff) in the identified pilot area(s) built on the basis of an ecologically sound design and using traditional construction techniques, as possible/appropriate.
Extension and Awareness
-The professional capacity of the network of Environmental Extension Officers [EEOs]) established by the UNDP-GEF project further strengthened, through the provision of specific training on Primary Health Care and its links to water resources management.
-A Socotra-specific Health, Water and Conservation package developed, with relevant audio-visual material.
-EEOs trained in the use and delivery of the above mentioned extension program and package, as well as on its integration with biodiversity and other environment and development management processes.
Implementations and Results
In July 2001, the team started working on three main objectives concerning the health sector, water resource management and the delivery of the equipment and drugs acquired. The Project is ongoing, and will last until mid-2003. International staff completed their tasks in July 2002, and the local team will continue to manage the project.
Activities in the health sector were carried out as planned: premises were upgraded, a network of health centers was established all over the world, drugs and equipment were supplied mobile clinics were organized and outreach health care service started, proposals for municipal solid waste management were elaborated, support was given to the ongoing Malaria Eradication and Tuberculosis Control Program, and a capacity-building program was developed. The initial activities of the Watershed Management Model Development concerned setting up a pilot network of ten stations for the collection of meteorological data, which were then progressively processed and correlated with data from twater-table. Staff was trained for the collection of all necessary data. A set of thematic maps was produced to form the baseline study for all related projects implemented on the island. A geo-referenced stratification of the island was also prepared, based on the preferences of inhabitants for water use, catchment characteristics and operational capacity. Further, a target area for the design of an environmentally friendly and sustainable water management pilot system was identified, to the East of the island in the Moomi region. Also, two Khareefs were re-built in the watersheds of the Upper Valley of Klissan River in an effort to support use and storage of the occasional runoff. Finally, a small team was setup and trained for the future management of the environmental impact caused by the population’s increasing water needs. The integrated Extension Package was also successfully was developed, communication and training materials was produced, including a video for environmental awareness, and training was provided. In spite of its limited budget, the Project has a significant impact on the development theory and practice in Socotra, well beyond its financial value. In fact, it was successful in mainstreaming environmental concern into health and water management issues. In this context, a second project phase is under formulation, which will aim at setting up a Design Support System (DSS). This will be a planning/management tool, which will provide its users with a better knowledge and understanding of the effective economic and environmental consequences the different planning /management actions, will have. The DSS will be based upon a systematic approach, which will account for all the possible implications for the relevant ecosystem(s) of a certain planning/management action, and which will permit the integration of an environmental perspective into any development action, boosting its sustainability perspective. Finally, the experience gained in the implementation of the present Project will be one of the building blocks of Type 11 Partnership under elaboration, which will involve Socotra and the Galapagos Archipelago.