West Africa has a rich natural resource base that includes soil, forest, rangeland, and freshwater and marine resources. Increased pressure on these resources from the rapidly growing population is compounded by the region’s vulnerability to climate shocks such as recurrent drought and rising sea levels. Sound natural resource management (NRM) and improved territorial governance are therefore critical for economic development, food security, peace and security in the region.

The USAID environment program focuses on climate change and biodiversity conservation, improving access to water and sanitation, and promoting environmentally sound design.

Climate Change and Biodiversity Conservation:

The Sustainable and Thriving Environments for West Africa Regional Development (STEWARD) program is improving the NRM of 1.4 million hectares of the Upper Guinean Forest ecosystem in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. STEWARD assists countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance sequestration of carbon associated with land use, improve the management of forests, and reduce emissions from deforestation. The program recognizes that establishing clear land tenure rights is vital for NRM interventions in order to minimize future conflict over resources. STEWARD supported the Mano River Union  (MRU) in an assessment of existing NRM laws across its four member countries plus Ghana, and has directly influenced the implementation of over 106 policies, laws and agreements promoting sustainable NRM. The program significantly advanced trans-boundary conservation policy, law and governance of community forests and agroforestry zones by assisting the MRU to officially establish a trans-boundary conservation area between Sierra Leone and Guinea, supporting the creation of the Gola National Park in Sierra Leone, and negotiating the creation of the trans-boundary forest Peace Park between Sierra Leone and Liberia. Thus far, 1.7 million tons of CO2 have been sequestered as a result of USAID assistance in West Africa.

Awarded in May 2015, the overall goal of West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Project (WA-BiCC) is to improve conservation and climate-resilient, low emission growth across West Africa. This project targets geographical areas within the region to improve governance and policy on critical natural and human systems. By working through regional partners, such as ECOWAS and the Mano River Union, and with targeted national and sub-national institutions, this activity will increase the capacity of institutions at all levels in order to reduce wildlife trafficking, deforestation and forest degradation, as well as promote climate-resilient growth in coastal areas.

For the first time ever, the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS/AGHRYMET) and its 17 partner countries have “wall to wall” satellite coverage of West Africa. CILSS/AGRHYMET spatial analysis experts and U.S. Geological Survey scientists are training regional scientists and policy makers on how to apply state-of-the-art satellite image interpretation and mapping technologies to identify, analyze and communicate trends in land use over the past 40 years. An atlas on land-use trends in the region has been drafted and will be available in late 2015. In addition, USAID is contributing to the understanding of the carbon stored in West African forests and mangroves, and has established three Geographic Information Centers in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Water and Sanitation: 

Poor hygiene behaviors and insufficient access to water and sanitation services have enormous health, economic and social consequences. USAID water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities focus on i) accelerating access to improved water supply/sanitation services and improving hygiene behaviors; ii) improving the sustainability of rural and peri-urban WASH service delivery and scaling this up across the region; iii) building synergies among WASH activities that advance food security, promote sustainable resource management and reduce vulnerability to climate change; and iv) strengthening the capacity of regional WASH institutions to meet their mandates and achieve WASH development goals in West Africa. The mission’s WASH activities target rural areas of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia where water supply and sanitation services are inadequate. Overall, USAID partners have found that less than 50 percent of water pumps are working in many areas and the water quality at access points is highly questionable and unverifiable, given limited laboratory capacity to conduct proper water quality analyses in remote areas.

To address the capacity building needs, three regional universities were selected as focal points for WASH training: the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering in Burkina Faso; the University of Niamey, Niger; and the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana. Through USAID WASH initiatives, 173,600 people now have improved access to drinking water and 265,600 have improved access to sanitation services. The program has also leveraged parallel WASH investments from other donors.

Several new activities have started to address capacity gaps in the WASH sector. First, USAID is providing direct support to the African Water Association, which has a mandate to improve drinking water production and supply, and sanitation in West Africa, in addition to sharing knowledge and best WASH practices. Through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, USAID is building the capacity of water quality laboratories in Ghana and Burkina Faso with the ultimate goal of developing scalable models for laboratory capacity development across West Africa. Finally, through the West Africa Sanitation Service Delivery activity, USAID efforts are focused in Ghana, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire to engage the private sector in order to meet the sanitation needs of the region.

Environmental Compliance:

USAID’s Regional Environmental Compliance Team provides training and technical assistance to ensure that environmentally sound designs and natural resource management practices are part of every USAID program in the West Africa region. Over the past two years, more than one billion dollars in projects were reviewed, covering all sectors, including Peace & Governance, Agriculture, Health, and Trade & Investment, in addition to Environment & Climate Change Response.