Yaoundé: Government And Civil Sector Officials Discuss Issues With Water And Development In A Country Threatened By Climate Change
15 March 2016
By Ida Sophie Winter
In her opening ceremony remarks at a November 26-27 water management
conference in Yaoundé, held in partnership with the Organization of Islamic
Cooperation and United Nations Development Programme, Secretary General of
Cameroon's Ministry of Employment and Vocational Training Jeanne Aimée Ekotto
set a challenging tone.
''Meetings are nice…Trainings are nice,'' said Ekotto. ''But jobs, education and
health are essential.''
Ekotto saw tangible human development results as the main goals of the
conference. She cast water management as a human development issue, saying it
can directly benefit the marginalized populations of Cameroon.
A focus on the environment must be part of this management, however, due to
the dire effects of climate change on Cameroon's population. Through the
conference, the government and its partners aimed to connect environmental
sustainability and human development, but also to solve another issue
considered, by some, as the most pressing obstacle to development work in
Cameroon: a lack of communication among government and civil sector
organizations, leading to a deficiency in funding from the government to
sustain development projects.
This funding grows more crucial each year in Cameroon: despite a national GDP,
in 2014, of $32.55 billion (the World Bank ranked Cameroon as the 98th of 194
countries in terms of GDP in that year), roughly 40 percent of Cameroonians
live in poverty. In 2006, 19.3 percent of children were underweight. Child
mortality rates have increased over the past two decades. Health is restricted
by little access to drinking water, which affects 26 percent of the population
and increases the risk of impure water-borne diseases like cholera. Due to
these factors, average life expectancy in Cameroon is 55 years.
Each region faces different challenges, many of which are exacerbated by
climate change. In regions like the western coastal Bakassi, residents lack
electricity and have limited access to potable water and health services. In
the south, waterborne diseases are spreading due to prolonged rainfall and
In northern Garoua, meanwhile, residents must manage water usage closely or
face looming shortages, as average temperatures increase and annual rainfall
drops. Without action, these climate effects will probably worsen over time,
drying up streams and lakes important to livelihoods and increasing land
desertification Through salination and inadequate fresh water supply, climate
change also threatens agriculture, one of the country's most important revenue
sources and a sector on which 70-75 percent of the population depends for
Government workers and civil sector employees connected with each other on
these issues throughout the conference. First, they trained together in
facilitating participatory development at the local level under Dr. Yossef
Ben-Meir, president of the Moroccan-American NGO High Atlas Foundation.
Through their training, participants learned how to help communities lead
environmentally sustainable improvement in living standards. Participants then
shared their own regional struggles with environmental sustainability and
Jean Jacques Kamsu Tchuenteu, a water and sanitation advisor with the NGO Plan
International, concentrated on the burden women and girls face in gathering
drinking water due to a lack of widespread hydraulic infrastructure. The water
gathering process can sometimes take several hours, he said, and decreases
educational opportunities by diverting time and energy from school. He also
indicated that many reservoirs in Yaoundé are not functional, causing mud to
mix with water normally used for drinking.
Sylvie Ndongo, a hydraulic engineer with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural
Development, pointed out that many women and girls suffer from illiteracy and
poor math skills, which hinder their ability to engage in most skilled work.
Chief of Service of Pasture and Pastoral Management Kilian Asongwe, part of
the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries, indicated that
herdsmen from Nigeria are moving into Cameroon due to the threat of terrorist
group Boko Haram, increasing tensions regarding limited potable water supply
and agricultural land.
Alain Temegne Seutchieu, an engineer with the Ministry of Economy, Planning
and Regional Development, presented information on agricultural conflicts
among hundreds of people in the west regarding water-intensive rice
cultivation and the linked deferral of water from those farther downstream
toward the end of the dry season, when fresh water is in short supply.
The Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation's Patrick Mounoumeck
discussed the issue of communication between governments and NGOs, indicating
that, while many organizations are working on the same development issues, the
government could more efficiently direct those organizations' resources if it
was informed of their activities.
Multiple participants said that due to this ignorance and flawed or
nonexistent project reporting on the local level, the government is not
financing rural development as widely as is needed.
According to some, this issue is part of a much larger problem with
development in Cameroon, namely a lack of communication between the government
and civil sector, and little sustained development effort.
The Cameroonian government has taken steps to pursue ecologically friendly
development. In 1996, the Cameroonian government created the National
Environmental Management Plan, a strategy that outlines the pursuit of
sustainable development through a variety of measures, including
implementation of training programs, dissemination of development methods and
information exchange, all topics highlighted throughout the conference.
According to a 2002 assessment of the NEMP by the International Institute for
Sustainable Development, though, coordination of activities among civil
society actors is a ''major challenge'' in development, as is the government's
suspicion of legislative input by those outside of the government. The
assessment pointed to these factors as responsible for largely excluding civil
society from project monitoring and policy making. According to a 2011 study
by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the African
Development bank, the government's lack of sector-focused programs, regular
action focused on climate change and a system to collect project information.
One reason for a purported lack of sustained focus on climate issues may be
the government's abiding concern with other, seemingly more immediate
concerns. The OECD and AfDB write that the Government of Cameroon shows
greater interest in job creation and combating poverty as compared to efforts
linked with climate change. The organizations indicates that climate change is
''not a priority'' and ''unlikely to become so in the near future'' due to limited
awareness throughout the country and a lack of capacities within ministries to
implement climate-focused programs.
They write that projects focused on development and climate change have
therefore largely been the work of NGOs, which, according to the NEMP
assessment, are troubled as national NGOs lack influence due to
disorganization, inexperience, and insufficient human and financial resources.
Furthermore, international NGOs tend to implement programs based on their
externally determined priorities rather than basing them on knowledge of the
hosting communities and their needs.
In the conference, participants began formulating solutions to issues in
development and promoting greater communication through cross-sectorial
contacts. They also learned how to facilitate community meetings at the local
level, thereby allowing community-led development to spread throughout rural
and urban Cameroon.
The conference highlighted the national government's interest in enhancing its
own development capacity and its willingness to partner with the civil sector
to focus on climate and related development issues. It is not clear, however,
how far-reaching that official interest and its effect on marginalized
Cameroonians will be.
For now, though, perhaps the Government of Cameroon can spark solutions to
climate change and social issues by focusing on environmental preservation
through a human development lens.
Ida Sophie Winter is a student at the University of Missouri. She spent the
2014-15 academic year as a Boren and Critical Languages Scholar in Morocco.
During the fall of 2015, she worked with the High Atlas Foundation as a
project manager and development writer.