Nouakchott hosted an important conference on Environment and Sustainable Development on Thursday, 26 December 2019.
The conference was organized by the “Collectif des Cadres Mauritaniens Expatriés” (CCME) under the theme "Environment and Sustainable Development in Mauritania: Challenges and Opportunities". Government officials, the ambassadors and high-level officials from the Nouakchott-based diplomatic corps, researchers, members of the civil society, and the general public took part in the conference.
The UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw spoke at the conference as the keynote speaker after the opening remarks delivered by Mr. Mamadou Baro, President in office of the CCME and the intervention of the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Ms. Marieme Bekaye.
By using an allegory of an emulsifier, Mr. Thiaw explained the relationship between development and environmental preservation in Mauritania - a desertification and climate change-prone country where 50% of child mortality under-5 is related to the environment. “Balancing the need for development with the necessity to protect the environment is a delicate exercise of compromise,” said Mr. Thiaw. He then spoke about the environment sector in the country which is more diverse and has more significant potential than currently valued. To illustrate such potential, he gave six examples, including green jobs and agro-pastoralism, that would turn the challenges into opportunities. He concluded the speech by emphasizing that Mauritania’s sustainable development must be everyone's business.
Read the full statement in French. A short summary of his statement can be found below.
Desertification, the loss of natural habitats and water shortages are naturally at the core of Mauritania's environmental challenges. Evidence that climate change has already had its effects, droughts are becoming more frequent and more intense, each time causing economic damage to the country. Years of severe droughts thus correspond to periods of economic shrinkage, as the primary sector is the mainstay of the economy (more than 60% of Mauritanians derive their livelihood from agriculture and livestock farming). The citizens, not only those living in rural areas, are devastated by droughts. The land is affected as much as marine and coastal areas. Environmental issues are among the root causes of Sahelian cancer.
Properly diagnosed and treated, they are also part of the solutions. Opportunities exist and they must be found. Dunes, the extreme heat of the Saharan sun and sand winds are often disruptive. However, in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, artificial intelligence and blockchains, these challenges can be transformed into a source of wealth and comfort.
Biodegradable, decarbonated, cheap, desert sand is potentially a new currency. A Chinese company (Rechsand Technologies), with thirty years of specialization and research on desert sands, has built its multistory headquarters from sand. The wind and especially the sun are the other good news for Mauritania. The initial investments to produce renewable energy have been positive. The cost per kilowatt-hour of solar energy continues to fall, while the efficiency of the installations is increasing every year. The environment is also a sector that provides green jobs. Not only in the energy sector mentioned above but also in the restoration of degraded environments. The Great Green Wall is labour-intensive, and millions of jobs will be created in the short term, generating long-term income. Mauritania could also benefit greatly from environmental tourism, agro-pastoralism or fishing. Nature conservation is, in fact, the fundamental pillar of the national economy.
The solution to turning our challenges into opportunities must be found. Mauritania can achieve its aspirations for prosperity while protecting its environment.
Photo credit: Mozaikrim/MLK