East Africa Environmental Summit interlocks climate advocates with research centres


With its bustling ports, growing economy, friendly multiculturalism, and stable borders, Djibouti is a star in the Horn of Africa. But environmental and demographic pressures are putting the future of the small country into jeopardy. As the population grew in the 20th century, Djibouti’s water table receded from close to 2 meters from the surface to now more than 10 meters. As the water table shrank, seawater from the Gulf of Aden infiltrated Djibouti’s system, and now the groundwater is reaching salinity levels hazardous to human health and agricultural productivity. Moreover, desertification and population increases add additional strain to the dwindling water resources by fostering demand for increased agricultural activities.
Many of these issues were central to the 2015 East Africa Environmental Risks and Opportunities Summit that took place in Djibouti from May 2nd to  4th. The summit was a high-level national event attended by dignitaries from all over East Africa. The event opened with a speech by Ismael Omar Guelleh, President of the Republic of Djibouti. President Guelleh spoke of the “unmistakable evidence of climate change,” and if nothing is done now, countries in East Africa will face the bitter fate of “climate change annihilation.” Other notable speakers included Dr. Nabil Mohamed, Minister of Higher Education, who spoke of the importance of the year 2015 for the future of humanity.
The summit brought together dozens of ministers, academics, private sector professionals, and NGO workers to discuss issues like water resources management, renewable energy, conservation innovation, and climate change in the Horn of Africa. Alexander Metzger (Environmental Science), and Paul Case (Organizational Theory) represented University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass) at the event. In a panel, Professor Ivanova presented the most recent results of the Environmental Conventions Index. She also spoke in the closing ceremony of the conference alongside several Djiboutian ministers.
Attending the conference doubled  the opportunity to increase the connections between UMass Boston, the Food Systems and Poverty Reduction IGERT Program of Cornell University, and environmental institutions in the Horn of Africa. During their stay, the UMass delegation visited with Mr. Moussa Ali Meigague, Director of Djibouti’s new Institute of Diplomatic Studies, to discuss the possibilities of collaboration between UMass and the new Djiboutian institution. The Centre  for Governance and Sustainability is already working on an environmental diplomacy course, which is something of great interest to the foreign ministries of East Africa, and plans to introduce it in the Horn of Africa this October. Professor Ivanova also met several times with Dr. Nabil Mohamed to work on the upcoming Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Djibouti.