Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA)
Communities in Africa are challenged by stressors as diverse as climatic variability, biodiversity loss, a lack of finance, and armed conflict. Responding to these challenges requires an approach that sees their interconnection and is grounded in a concern for social justice.
Today’s policy and finance landscape does not yet do this, but a key first step is within our reach: utilize holistic and collaborative approaches to strengthen water governance and restore ecosystem services.
Restoring degraded wetlands in Malawi
Deforestation, land degradation, and climate change have severe impacts on water and food security in Malawi.This is particularly true in rural communities that practice natural resource-based livelihoods like farming and fishing. Unfortunately, when food and water are scarce, people are often forced to implement short-term solutions that further degrade the ecosystems on which they rely.
The Jesuit Centre for Ecology and Development (JCED) in Lilongwe, Malawi is responding to this challenge through culturally sensitive and holistic approaches to ecosystem restoration that address short-term needs while simultaneously putting processes in place to restore long- term ecosystem services.
For example, water points provide communities with reliable access to clean and safe groundwater and reduce the time women and children spend fetching water from streams and rivers, which tend to be less clean and reliable. Fuel-efficient cookstoves reduce the need for firewood, helping to slow the rate of deforestation and make fuel use sustainable. They also minimize the health risks women face due to smoke exposure while cooking.
Once communities can meet basic needs in a manner that is reliable, sustainable, and gender sensitive, long-term ecosystem restoration efforts can build on this success.JCED mobilizes communities to engage in tree planting and forest regeneration in wetland areas, improving soil health and groundwater infiltration and restoring lost ecosystem services.
Existing social institutions that are rooted in local cultures and communities provide the best opportunities for collaboration.Primary schools and the traditional clan system have proven to be particularly effective partners in this work.
Engaging water communities in Kenya
Water is scarce in many parts of Kenya, including Garissa and Kilifi counties. The Athi river courses through these lands but is polluted by upstream users before it reaches communities downstream. Meanwhile, annual rainfall could provide enough water to meet people’s basic needs but is not conserved through the dry season.
The Jesuit Hakimani Centre in Nairobi worked with communities in Garissa and Kilifi to address these problems by improving subnational water governance and local management of water use.
Community-level dialogues were first held between community leaders and community members affected by water scarcity – primarily women – to identify the challenges they face. These dialogues were then expanded to include government officials and formulate collaborative policy solutions. This dialogue process helped create county-level policies that strengthened water management based on local priorities.
While this process was ongoing, Hakimani worked with women in the affected communities to implement rainwater harvesting and water recycling techniques that gave them access to more water and helped them use it more efficiently.
Gender-sensitive dialogue and community consultation offer important pathways for making water governance more inclusive and relevant to people’s needs.
Nutrition-sensitive fisheries governance
Wild fisheries are a crucial source of nutrition and livelihoods for communities located near Africa’s oceans, rivers, and lakes.However, ecological degradation and the exclusion of small-scale actors threaten the viability of these key ecosystem services.
The Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA) is responding to these challenges through research that contributes to the transformation of fishery governance. This research identified management strategies that can simultaneously maximize nutrition and sustainability in coral reef fisheries.It also highlighted necessary legal and policy reforms to secure human rights and social justice for small-scale coastal and riparian actors.
JENA is also working to catalyze a shift towards nutrition-sensitive fisheries by promoting formal connections among food and fishery governance processes. One such process is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which is strengthening its work on food security but has so far limited its focus to terrestrial food systems. JENA engages at the country level by providing capacity building and technical support to partner organizations.
JENA: Responding to social and environmental concerns in Africa
JENA is a network of 22 Jesuit and Catholic faith-based NGOs in Africa. Network members offer extension services to small-scale farmers, work with local communities to restore natural ecosystems, and support governments at all levels to develop inclusive and effective policy frameworks addressing a variety of social and environmental problems. Research and advocacy are also undertaken within the framework of integral ecology, which emphasizes the interconnection of social justice and environmental sustainability.
As Pope Francis wrote in 2015, “we are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” JENA’s decades of experience accompanying frontline communities confirm this insight and strengthen the holistic and collaborative action for water needed in the region.