Eritrea is endowed with rich biodiversity resources. The Proposed Protected Areas (PPAs) of Semenawi and Debubawi Bahri (SDB); Buri-peninsula and the Gash-Barka Riverine Forests etc… harbour highly diversified flora such as Juniperus procera, Olea Africana and fauna that support considerable agricultural and fishing activities . The Eritrean Red Sea coast is endowed with valuable marine resources and has rich biodiversity , including in marine plants especially the seagrass. The beauty of the avi-fauna and landscape of the Green Belt and Mountain Bizen of the Eastern escarpment of Eritrea are of high eco-tourism value .
Eritrea has records of about 600 bird species; and it is an important migration route and stop-over location for many species of migratory birds. A total of 14 Important Bird Areas (IBA) have been identified for Eritrea . Presently, there is no updated information about the conservation status of Bird species in Eritrea. However, a study made by Redman et al., 2009 , reported that out of the 60 endemic birds to the Horn of Africa, 17 species are found in Eritrea (e.g. Wattled Ibis, Abyssinian woodpecker, Thick-billed Raven, Banded barbet etc.). In addition, there are 6 nearly endemic birds (e.g. White cheeked Turaco, White rumped Babler, etc.) .
According to the IUCN Red List 2018, Eritrea is home to a number of globally rare and endangered species. Endangered mammals include the African wild ass, Nubian Ibex, and African Elephant. The Dorcas gazelle and Soemmering’s gazelle are listed as vulnerable. Further, the Eritrean gazelle (Eudurcas tilunora) was recently re-discovered after more than 80 years. According to IUCN, the species is endangered, and it lives within the horn of Africa, primarily along the Nile River .
Eritrea is recognized as a centre of origin and diversity for a number of cereal crops; sorghum, wheat, barley, pulses, and vegetables. As an agrarian society, Eritrean dependence on agriculture is highly substantial; and safeguarding the productivity of the land is a major concern , .
Eritrea’s pressing environmental problems are directly related to land degradation, deforestation, soil loss and the expansion of desertification, especially in the critical areas where agricultural output is vital. The loss of biodiversity, along with climate change and desertification, have been identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development in Eritrea .
According to Eritrea’s 6th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) , its ecosystems are facing threats due to land degradation, deforestation, erratic rainfall patterns, and land use changes.
In the Marine and Coastal areas, the threats to the rare, endangered and threatened species are usually related with the pressure put by humans through fishing, moderate pollution and coastal developments. The corals of the Eritrean coast are particularly subject to periodic high temperature which causes massive bleaching in shallow areas.
In the terrestrial environment, deforestation, land degradation, over grazing/over browsing, invasive alien species and habitat transformation (land use changes) are identified as the major threats to biodiversity. Habitat degradation and loss are occurring due to several factors that include clearing of woodlands for agriculture, cutting of live trees for firewood, expansion of settlements, villages and towns, and to a lesser extent coastal pollution.
In the agricultural environment, pressure on agro-biodiversity is due to climatic changes which are causing changes in the amount and distribution of rainfall that is threatening the local landraces. New and improved varieties are slowly being used by the farmers, which may replace and possibly lead to the extinction of some landraces. With regards to local livestock breeds, there is a threat from drought and lack of browse and management in some localities .
Key policies and governance approach
Several Ministries have mandates related to biodiversity in Eritrea, including the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment (MoLWE), Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Ministry of Marine Resources (MoMR). MoLWE, through its Department of Environment (DoE), assumes the responsibility of coordinating all activities related to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) .
At the national level, several policies, strategies and plans exist that are relevant to biodiversity conservation in Eritrea, these include, among others, the National Action Program to Combat Desertification and mitigate the effects of Drought (NAP, 2002); Forest and wildlife Conservation and Development Proclamation (2006); National Coastal Policy (2006); Land Use Policy 2007; Water Policy (2010); MoLWE, Department of Environment Eritrea’s Five Year Action Plan (2011-2015) for The Great Green Wall Initiative; and the Fisheries Proclamation (1998/2003/2014) . In 2000, Eritrea prepared its first National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). The NBSAP is a continuation of the government’s earlier commitments to environmental protection, including the National Environmental Management Plan – Eritrea (NEMP-E, 1995) and other relevant policies and legislations .
In 2015, Eritrea revised the NBSAP. The revised NBSAP (2014-2020) identifies five strategic goals to reduce and eventually halt biodiversity losses, and improve the current state of ecosystems and ensure sustainable use. These are: (i) address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society; (ii) reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; (iii) improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity; (iv) enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and (v) enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building .
Successes and remaining challenges
The establishment of protected areas represents the State’s commitment towards achieving the goal and targets of the National Protected Area System (PAS) as outlined in the NBSAP (2015). There are four priority areas for protection: (i) Semienawi and Debubawi Bahri (106,000 ha), (ii) Buri-Irori-Hawakil (867,000 ha), (iii) Berasole estuary (13,100ha) and (iv) the Gash-Setit Elephant Sanctuary (44,000ha). Although not officially gazetted, Semienawi and Debubawi Bahri protected area and the Gash-Setit Elephant Sanctuary, which encompass 150,000 ha (~1.2% of the country), have already been delineated and mapped and are protected through government directives. However, in the Buri Irrori and Hawakil (about 7% of the country) no progress has been made in terms of delineation and management zoning. Furthermore, the management and business plans of all proposed protected areas are not yet in place .
Eritrea’s 6th National Report to the CBD identified the main challenges related to the implementation of the NBSAP and the conservation of biodiversity in the country. These include: lack of awareness on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity at all levels; insufficient coordination between relevant stakeholders, reducing the impact of efforts made by various institutions; inadequate integration and coordination of biodiversity issues, especially at the local level, including the implementation of activities established for in-situ and ex-situ conservation, invasive alien species, agricultural biodiversity and traditional knowledge; shortage of taxonomic knowledge on biodiversity in Eritrea; insufficient resource mobilization; and inadequate monitoring and evaluation in the implementation of biodiversity related activities .
For the Eritrean NBSAP to be managed and implemented successfully and therefore achieve its objectives there is a need to coordinate activities more effectively, raise the awareness of all bodies concerned, mainstream the activities with different stakeholders, build capacity, and mobilize resources .
Goals and Ambitions
The Revised NBSAP (2014-2020) provides overall objectives for 3 ecosystems  :
- In terrestrial biodiversity, the objective is “the Rehabilitation of degraded terrestrial ecosystems and their components through a combination of natural succession; protected area establishment and management; and sustainable use of terrestrial biodiversity resources”.
- In the Coastal, marine and Island Biodiversity the objective is “ the coastal, marine and island biodiversity of Eritrea is conserved and human activity managed to promote the sustainable development and optimal use of these resources”.
- In the Agro-biodiversity the objective is “the conservation and sustainable use of the agrobiodiversity resources for food security, income generation and agriculture, whilst ensuring the socially-fair distribution of benefits arising from the use of national agro-biodiversity resources”.
The key actions, as identified in Eritrea’s 6th National Report to the CBD , for the conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of biological resources and ecosystem services are:
- Improve the integration of traditional knowledge with scientific research to enhance the skill, capabilities and competence of relevant stakeholders on the conservation of biological diversity.
- The improvement of the scientific knowledge base (e.g. taxonomy) of biodiversity by continually organizing awareness campaigns and involving all stakeholders in the endeavor and especially streamlining the concept in the educational system in a more workable way.
- Work closely with the relevant Institutions and local communities to enhance the sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
- Strengthen the integration of biological diversity considerations into all sectoral plans, programs, policies and strategies.
- Intensify the participation of all citizens on conservation, development and sustainable use of biological diversity.
- Review and update existing sectoral legislations pertinent to biological diversity and also develop and enforce new legal instruments such as Protected Area Legislation.
- Strengthen the implementation of the National Environmental Impact Assessment Procedures and Guidelines to ensure all development projects and activities are environmentally sound.
- Support biodiversity related awareness raising programs and information sharing at all levels, including the use of the CBD Clearing House Mechanism.
- Establish and secure appropriate resource mobilization for biological diversity conservation and sustainable use.
- Strengthen the use of alternative energy sources so as to reduce the pressure being imposed on natural resources in general and biological diversity in particular.
- Harmonize biodiversity conservation actions with various activities of environmental conventions and agreements to which Eritrea has signed.
- Enhance regular monitoring and evaluation on the implementation of NBSAP.
- Enhance the human capacity of the relevant institutions including the focal point and the stakeholders so as to effectively implement and manage the activities of the strategic plan.