Year after year, Libore Nassisou, 45, waited to catch a decent-sized fish from a prominent canal located in southeast Togo’s Boko village. The years turned into decades as the canal’s perennial problems of silt build-up and blockage from invasive plant species led to fewer fish and flooding. This made the Boko fisherman wonder if his once thriving community, heavily dependent on its fishing economy, would ever rebuild itself.
It did. Thanks to the strong spirit of the community and its partners, the canal has been revitalized, flooding reduced and the canal is now producing the largest fish in decades.
“It has been decades and a long wait since the last time we caught a fish of this size in the canal [indicating a large fish with his hands], Nassisou said. “Since the opening of the canal, there is a noticeable migration of fish from Lake Zowla into the waters of Boko.”
With the support of the World Bank’s Integrated Disaster and Land Management project (IDLM), the Boko Village community created a plan to clean and revive the canal which connects Lake Boko and Zowla. This was important not just for the local fishing economy, but also to stop the frequent flooding occurring in the village because of the canal’s inability to channel rainwater run-off.
Before the revitalization of the canal, the local fishing economy suffered, as large fish no longer entered the canal. There were many attempts by the community, starting as far back as the 1960s, to overcome the problem and bring the canal back to functionality; however, these attempts ended in failure and the villagers soon began to resign themselves to living with the effects of a declining economy and frequent flooding. Market areas near the canal became inaccessible and the period of a booming fishing trade soon faded into memory.
Fortunately, the Boko community spirit persevered. Starting in November 2010, during the activities identification phase of the IDLM project, an initiative was proposed by the village development committee requesting the help of the Bank to financially support local labor costs to manually clean and dredge the canal. The Bank project committee supported the community with CFA 41 million ($90,000) to dredge the canal with financial backing from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and Global Environment Facility (GEF). The project is part of the Sahel and West Africa Program (SAWAP) in support of the Great Green Wall developed as a second generation investment under TerrAfrica.
With additional technical supervision and guidance by the local Agency in Support of Grass Roots Initiatives (AGAIB), the Ministry of Environment and Forest Resources and the local emergency response authorities, the community residents quickly organized themselves to carry out the project which required an enormous amount of labor-intensive manual dredging. The overall goal was to restore the normal flow of water between the two lakes.
After only a few years, the task was achieved and the canal restored, allowing the water to flow freely between the lakes. The women of Boko especially stood out as they organized themselves to dive into the water, pull up roots and clumps and transport the collected piles of vegetation to the banks of the canal for further disposal.
To maintain the sustained development of the project, a female-led management committee has been put in place. The committee, consisting mainly of fishermen, has developed rules to govern all fishing activities in the canal and maintains a weekly schedule for maintenance.
“Women have played such a huge role in our mission to help individuals overcome disasters related to climate change," said Sodohoin Messanh, chair of the management committee. "The manual labor necessary to restore the Lake Boko canal was completed by them. With continued improvements, we hope to regain a footing in the economy as fish trading in the canal gains traction once again."
The project has had a significant impact on the people of Boko village and on the environment. For the first time in decades, the local population no longer experiences severe flooding. Water now quickly dissipates through the runoffs into the canal and moves freely through the current into the lakes. Many villagers have even returned to their once abandoned homes. Gardening and agricultural practices, such as growing sugar cane, have also been restored. Most importantly, fishing activities have gradually resumed.
“Following floods and other natural disasters, it is the community and local economy which bear the impacts for many years,” said Christoph Pusch, disaster risk management practice leader for the Bank’s Africa region. “Thus, special attention should be given to these community initiatives, most notably those led by women, to increase resilience to the adverse effects of climate change and land degradation.”