IUCN in 2012 introduced the Community Environment Conservation Fund (CECF) as an enabling framework for communities to access micro-credit and undertake activities that will improve their livelihoods in the short term while restoring and enhancing sustainable management of their water and natural resources in the long term.
The dilemma of water resources management is that poverty was very rife and driving communities to unsustainably exploit their natural resources through indiscriminate tree cutting, wetland drainage and cultivation and bush burning. The existing governance arrangements were weak and poorly enforced. IUCN therefore set out to provide a supportive framework that would promote sustainable utilization of natural resources, ensure governance and accountability of actions, while addressing poverty, which is the main driving force for natural resources mismanagement.
The CECF was introduced in November 2012 where each of the 98 villages in 6 parishes in 3 districts of Lira, Alebtong, and Otuke receive $1500 in three installments. The fund is meant to improve the livelihood of communities through enterprise development. The use of the fund is not restricted, however access is tagged to active participation in management of natural resources.
The communities of northern Uganda have, over the last 5 years, settled after over 20 years civil war. Project baseline studies for Upper Aswa sub-catchment indicate that these communities are over exploiting their natural resources through indiscriminate tree cutting, wetland drainage and cultivation and bush burning for their immediate survival given limited availability of livelihood options. The traditional water resource management systems like elders and the traditional leaders (Adwong Wang Tic) were also eroded.
With the increasing population pressure, damage of water sources, cultivation of rivers, wetlands, and streams, eventually led to reduced the quality and quantity of water, siltation, flooding and conflicts over use especially by the cultivators (mostly rice growers, the cattle keepers, and domestic water users). This therefore called for a holistic approach for water resources management in Upper Aswa.
In April 2012, IUCN undertook a baseline study of the Upper Aswa sub-catchment to document the water rights, livelihoods, and vulnerability to climate change of the communities. The participatory approach was used, which involved identification of and discussion with all water resource stakeholders. The consulted groups and officials were: Water User Committees, water user groups, Parish Development Committees, village health teams (community resource persons), Local Councils 1, clan elders, District Water Officers, District Production Directors, District Agricultural Officers, Community Development Officers, District Veterinary Officers, sub-county chiefs, CSOs operating in the localities, the delocalised structures of the DWRM (WMZs) and last but not least the technical support units (TSUs) of the DWD.
The major findings from the assessment showed that:
- Majority of communities are poor and majorly rely on subsistence agriculture as a livelihood option where majority of farmers practice poor agricultural production skills.
- The water source based Water User Committees were existent but not functional. Moreover, their authority did not extend to other sources such as dams, hand dug wells, rivers and wetlands.
- Governance of water resources, which is key in management of water resources, was non-existent. Most water resources had therefore been neglected, vandalised or were poorly managed.
- The low fertility of soils upland in the area have led most communities to resort to cultivating along the rivers and streams, wetlands, and in the extreme cases cultivating in river beds especially during the dry season which has led to drying up of rivers in the dry season and flooding of rivers in the rainy season due to siltation from the cultivation.
- The river systems therefore became a source of conflict between cattle keepers, rice growers, and domestic water users - all scrambling for the water resources in wetland areas.
- In the upland, most communities resorted to cutting of trees especially the shea tree for charcoal burning as an alternative income option. This led to tremendous decrease of tree cover in the area.
IUCN responses were based upon the recognition that livelihood options are heavily reliant on natural resource base in the river catchment. Thus their proper management was key to securing the very natural resource and the dependent livelihoods on them. A process to undertake participatory mapping of the most degraded areas was facilitated and this was followed by a planning process to determine various actions that would be carried out to restore/sustainably manage the mapped areas while maintaining the emanating goods and services.
196 water sources that are accessed by over 4,346 households have been brought under better management with functional management committees that support the community in routine management of water sources (women as main water users constitute majority of these committees). All water points have been fenced using locally available materials, and cleaning rosters for routine communal cleaning drawn. The catchment of these water points have been protected; with grass and trees planted around the water points following the government of Uganda water source protection guidelines. This is contributing towards availability and access of clean water to communities, and reducing instances of water related diseases that impact negatively on the society’s ability to adapt to climate change. The protection of the catchment is also ensuring availability of water especially during the dry season (mostly for traditional water sources).
The water source committees together with the local leadership have also effectively mobilized communities to stop cultivating in wetlands and along stream and river banks. To achieve this, communities have agreed to create a buffer of 30 meters along stream and river banks, beyond which cultivation cannot take place. They have also agreed to plant locally available materials like sisal along the demarcation as a permanent boundary for the river/stream banks. So far, over 145km out of about 350km of stream/river banks have been demarcated and planted with sisal. Communities have already reported regeneration of natural vegetation along demarcated streams, an improvement of water quality and turbidity, and increased water flow among others.
The community holds monthly accountability meetings to reflect on their progress towards achieving planned results at village level. These meetings have accelerated community understanding of environmental management, CECF sharing, coordination of activities at the parish level, and generally improved water and natural resources governance in the area.
Generally there is an increase in the understanding of the value of the ecosystem to various stakeholders especially the community members and the local government leadership.
- In the implementation of IWRM inprojects, it is always important to design and approach interventions from a catchment based level in order to build a synergy with all other stakeholders in the water resources sector. This will ensure coordination of activities and impacts will have a widerscope and more sustainable in a long run.
- The involvement of all stakeholders, especially the local communities builds trust and ownership of the interventions which ensures sustainability beyond the lifespan of projects
- It is also important to utilize mandated and already existing structures/frameworks as opposed to creating new ones. This prevents duplication of roles but also ensures that the mandated institutions carry out their designated roles and in the process their capacity is built
- A very strong, representative, and responsive framework for governance and accountability of water and natural resources is key. This enables communities to continuously discuss, hold their leadership accountable, and develop sustainable solutions to management of water and natural resources
- IUCN’s approach is holistic and involves entire communities in the project activities based on the learning that group level interventions tend to exclude majority of the community members and can be a source of conflict between the beneficiaries and the general community because beneficiaries may be seen as favored in the community.
IUCN’s experience of administering the CECF model is that it is an important, field-tested catalyst to effective and sustainable water and natural resources management, especially among the rural poor. This is, because it:
Empowers local communities to directly participate in water and natural resources management;
Promotes accountability and better water and natural resources governance;
Improves societal wellbeing by providing access to credit to diversify livelihood options while reducing pressure on natural resources within the catchment;
Provides a monthly forum for dialogue between communities and their leaders;
Reduces water and natural resource related conflicts by providing a platform for discussion and arbitration in case they arise, and;
Enhancing social and environmental resilience
The approach integrates water, natural resources, environment and livelihoods within designated management areas, and helps to sustain the functionality of ecosystem goods and services and natural infrastructure. It is therefore a sustainable, local-level water, natural resources and environmental management financing model that is integrated, participatory and that ensures community ownership of the processes and results.
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Disclaimer: This text was created in October 2013 during a workshop organized with support from PROTOS, UWASNET and HORIZONT3000.
Original author: Moses Egaru (Project Officer BDR Project), IUCN Lira