New Initiative to Fast-Track Development in Dry Areas of East Africa

Ministers from six countries in the region endorse project targeting pastoralist communities


Nairobi, Kenya (23 July 2010) — The MDG Centre, East and Southern Africa, launched today, in partnership with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), an initiative to bring accelerated development to pastoralist communities living in the drylands of 6 countries in the region.

Dertu herderUnder the Drylands Initiative, thousands of pastoralists who have historically been neglected will benefit from animal production, infrastructure, health, education, and business projects in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Sudan. The MDG Centre is also in talks with Eritrea.

The launch took place at the end of a two-day meeting on the initiative, with the participation of African and international government and UN officials, experts, scientists, and civil society representatives. The meeting was attended by the First Lady of Uganda and Minister for Karamoja, Mrs. Janet Museveni.

The Drylands Initiative was first unveiled in January 2010, at the signing ceremony of a Memorandum of Understanding between The MDG Centre and COMESA. Since then, different sites have been identified in participating countries and the project is about to move to the implementation phase. In northern Kenya, such field work has been ongoing in Dertu Millennium Village since 2006. Based on the promising progress recorded there, the project is being scaled up to the district and other sites have been selected too.

‘Poverty levels are extraordinarily high in the drylands of East Africa, and the people who endure that poverty lack access to the most basic services: education, primary health care, safe water and sanitation, veterinary care for their livestock, and security from the ravages of drought and other environmental shocks. Climate change threatens to make the situation even more dire, unless active efforts are made to promote development and community resiliency,’ said Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals.

‘Fortunately, the people of the drylands are hard-working and are eager to invest in a sustainable future. With targeted efforts in critical areas — for example, livestock management and marketing, scaled-up health care, new educational opportunities, and upgraded infrastructure, pastoralist communities can achieve a major gain in productivity and economic wellbeing. This is what the Drylands Initiative sets out to achieve. Moreover, bringing economic improvement and climate resiliency will not only raise living standards but will also promote peace. Recent history has amply demonstrated that many of the conflicts in the drylands result from water stress, hunger, and other vulnerabilities of the drylands. Investing in drylands development is therefore also investing in peace and security,’ added Professor Sachs, one of the initiators of the project.

COMESA Secretary General, Mr. Sindiso Ngwenya, said: ‘We are happy to partner with The MDG Centre in this endeavor. Accordingly, our specialized agency, the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), will work very closely with the Centre to ensure that there are improvements in the livelihoods of communities living in the drylands.’

‘Building upon the success of the Millennium Villages Project, the Drylands Initiative will bring multi-sectoral development to isolated, yet sizeable communities. With the right approaches, such as mobile technology and access to markets, we hope that pastoralist communities will be able to integrate into the mainstream economy and record progress on the Millennium Development Goals,’ concluded the director of The MDG Centre, Dr. Belay Begashaw.

The Initiative will operate at a regional level, recognizing that the drylands of Eastern Africa form a single economic space and that challenges and opportunities don’t stop at national boundaries.