Investing in natural capital for sustainable development in the Comoros

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It is crucial to sustainably harness the potential of Comoros’ natural resource base in order to achieve economic growth and poverty reduction but how can we achieve this objective? Our first, and newly published, Country Environmental Analysis has ideas and recommendations I’d like to share.

Nestled between the Mozambique Channel and northeast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, the small island of Comoros, with a surface area of 2,235 km², is a treasure trove of biodiversity, diverse landscapes, large forests, and rich coastal and marine ecosystems. This abundant and valuable natural capital is essential for economic growth and livelihoods, but it is at risk. The country’s natural resources are in fact increasingly exposed to multiple stressors, such as population growth and density, unmanaged urbanization, climate change, and natural disasters. This is confirmed when we look at the country’s wealth composition: the renewable natural capital of the Comoros has shown indeed a decline per capita, indicating that in the long run, the natural capital stock may not keep up with the rate of use.

I’m pleased to share some of the recommendations from the analysis, to support Comoros in sustainable, inclusive, and climate-resilient development .

Recommendations:

1. Strengthen environmental governance and support institutional capacity.

Sustainably exploiting the country’s natural resources requires enhanced enforcement capacity, strengthened governance, and adequate financing. Mobilizing human, technical, and financial resources at all governmental levels is thus fundamental. The Comoros may benefit from a dedicated environmental expenditure review to provide more clarity on the specific challenges and needs in each sector. In addition to this, it would be important to ensure that the environmental implications of projects and actions are taken into account by the government before decisions are made.

2. Promote sustainable land, forest, and water management.

The Comoros has experienced widespread and severe deforestation, and land and forest degradation. To trigger effective, deep, and lasting changes, it is key for the Comoros to adopt an integrated approach to natural resource management while placing local communities at the core of its action.  Special focus would need to be accorded to the poor and vulnerable, who are the most dependent on natural resources. The Comoros would benefit from promoting climate-smart agriculture, agroforestry, and reforestation activities, to increase resilience against the effects of climate change while improving yields and soil fertility. The operationalization of all five new national parks, as proposed by the government, would be an important action to enhance the protection of terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

The Comoros also faces grave water scarcity and degradation. The situation is particularly critical when it comes to drinking water quality and sanitation standards. Given the links between water availability and agriculture productivity, as well as between water and land degradation, it is essential to adopt an integrated water resources management (IWRM) approach to address the increasing demand for water for drinking and for environmental and agricultural uses. It is critical to scale-up water, sanitation, and hygiene programs and increase investments in sanitation infrastructure in both rural and urban areas.

3. Promote sustainable fisheries and integrated marine and coastal management.

The coastal and marine ecosystems of the Comoros are rich but degraded, and fisheries are under pressure due to subsistence fishing, unsustainable fishing methods, and limited enforcement of policy. For these reasons, the Comoros needs to develop a sustainable fisheries strategy, addressing key challenges such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and co-management of coastal and marine resources.  The country would benefit from developing an integrated coastal management plan and blue economy roadmap and supporting the Marine Spatial Plan. More still needs to be done to promote the protection and restoration of mangroves and coral reefs.

4. Invest in integrated solid waste management.

Managing solid waste is one of the greatest ecological and social challenges for the Comoros, as well as the rest of the world. Urban growth increases waste production and compounds poor waste management. Acknowledging the magnitude of the issue, the government identified integrated solid waste management (ISWM) as one of the structuring projects under the Comoros Emerging Plan (PCE) 2030, the national strategic plan for long-term action to transform the emerging Comorian economy. Yet, many challenges are still ahead.  It is crucial for the Comoros to significantly increase investments in waste prevention, collection, disposal, and recycling, improve data collection and analyses, increase public awareness and communication, foster circular economy opportunities, and enhance the legal, institutional, and regulatory systems surrounding this issue.

5. Promote nature-based tourism.

Despite its potential, nature-based tourism (NBT) is largely untapped in the Comoros, contributing only 3.4% percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The development of the sector is challenged by many factors, such as low-quality hotels and tourism amenities, the lack of waste services and sanitation, inadequate and unsafe transportation infrastructure, and the stronger and more developed tourism offered by neighboring countries, such as Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles. Given the current infrastructural and competitiveness gap, before planning and investing in NBT, it would be beneficial for the Comoros to carry out an upstream opportunity analysis to understand the demand for NBT, its potential, and its best-suited market. A first step in this direction would be the updating of the 2013 Comoros Tourism Sector Review. At the same, the sustainability of NBT development should be a priority, ensuring that NBT is developed according to the carrying capacity of each island.

These five priorities lay the foundations for a medium-long-term vision for Comoros.  In the meantime, concrete actions following a phased approach can be undertaken in the short term. In particular, the waste management and water sectors need to be prioritized, as they represent the two most pressing issues for the country.

Significant opportunities to be leveraged in the short term may also arise from various initiatives, such as the World Bank’s Integrated Development and Competitiveness Project (PIDC), the Post-Kenneth Recovery and Resilience Project or PROBLUE. In the upcoming Comoros Country Climate and Development Report (CCDR), we will further explore resilient and climate-smart opportunities for the country. 

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Authors

Pierre Guigon

Senior Climate Finance Specialist

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