Written by Julia Zabbu, Georgetown Law Student
I am from a landlocked country. The first time I heard about mangroves, trees that grow along ocean coasts, was in my Environmental Law Class at Georgetown Law. Until then, I had never seen a mangrove tree and I never learned about it while growing up in Mukono-Uganda, 1,116.2 km from the ocean. Very little is known about mangroves in landlocked countries. But does that matter?
I spoke to Dr. Samuel Mugisha, a retired Professor of Forestry at Makerere University in Uganda, inquiring whether he taught his students about mangroves. He told me that since the country does not have them, he never taught about them. He went ahead to say that he taught eco –systems that were accessible for students to go to the field and learn practically. According to him, it would be too expensive to take the entire class to Kenya or Tanzania for a field trip.
Should landlocked countries concern themselves with a tree species that does not grow within their boundaries? And if so, what impact do the laws and policies of landlocked countries have on protection of mangroves?
There is no question that activities in landlocked countries can impact coastal areas. Research shows that inland rivers dams have an effect on the coastlines in which they flow. A study of four rivers in Sinaloa and Nayarit –Mexico was conducted to show the effects of dams on rivers. The study focused on two dammed rivers and two free flowing rivers. Overtime it showed that the dammed an adverse effect on the coastal system. This is because dams trap good sediment (rocks, minerals and remains of plants and animals) which would normally make its way to the river mouths. When sediment accumulates it allows eco systems like mangroves to grow. River conservation protects mangroves in coastal countries and in turn mangroves alleviate the effects of climate change which affects landlocked countries and coastal countries alike.
International agreements govern water sharing rights between countries that share a river, the coastal ecosystem is rarely considered. For example, agreements on the use of the Nile River dating back to 1929 have never considered mangroves, even in the most recent agreement of 2015. Several countries in the Nile Basin have mangroves, this includes, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya and Tanzania. In river sharing agreements, the major concern seems to be water sharing rights when damming occurs, the coastline ecosystem is not considered. The 2011 Agreement seems to consider wetlands and the ecosystem of the Nile basin but not the coastal eco system where the Nile pours its waters.
Mangrove conservation is key because it lessens the effects of climate change that have ravaged the Region in the form floods, drought leading to famine and other associated social economic challenges. It is clear that mangroves are important to landlocked countries and landlocked countries should care about mangrove conservation, however, coastal countries need to express the relevance of mangroves to the East African Region. A good place to start would be recognizing mangroves in key regional and international agreements that might have an effect on mangroves conservation.