Te Socotra Archipelago used to serve as a prison to persons who were for any reasons unwelcome on the Yemeni mainland. For more than four months every year, Socotra used to be completely inaccessible due to strong winds and high waves during the monsoon season. In 1999, this natural barrier was broken by opening the airport on the island. A rapid change came to Socotra with the first airliner which the most important passenger was the Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The local inhabitants got a reliable connection to the mainland, regular supplies and first groups of tourists. On the other hand, they also have had to face social and development issues such as significant immigration from the mainland, rising the island birth rate, unplanned investments and constructions and unscrupulous resource exploitation.
At the same time, Yemen has started a process of decentralized democratic governance with the core intention to restructure the distribution of budgetary resources between local authorities and the central government. Socotra can especially benefit from the ongoing process of decentralization since the Archipelago has been a part of the Hadramawt Governorate located far on the mainland. Elected District Councils of Hadibu and Qalansiya, as local authorities for planning, development and administration, have already started to take over the governance in Socotra closely cooperating with the Socotra branch of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) appointed by the government of Yemen.
UNDP Yemen, after successful completing of the Socotra Conservation and Development Programme 2003 – 2008, has opened a new project in June 2009 aimed at mainstreaming biodiversity management considerations in Socotra’s local governance. Socotra has been not currently experiencing any significant biodiversity loss. Thus the project aim is, rather that direct nature protection, prevention of possible biodiversity loss accompanying future development of the island.
SGBP donors are The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UNDP with parallel funding from the government of Yemen. In March 2010, the project was amended by a marine conservation component funded by Fonds Francais pour l’Environnement Mondial.
The project’s objective is to effectively mainstream biodiversity management considerations into a current of “decentralizing governance for development” on Socotra archipelago. The objective will be achieved through four project outcomes:
• Local governance support: according to intended autonomy of the Socotra Archipelago, an island-wide local government will be established and public administration structure at district level will be enahnced. When designing the new institutional structure for the Archipelago administrative, listing Socotra as the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site and other international commitments will be strongly taken into account.
• Development and implementation of mainstreaming tools: although national park covers already 72 percent of Socotra surface, new Protected Areas will be established and added into already existing Socotra Zoning Plan that was originally designed in the year 2000. Consultation workshops will be held with local communities for planning the establishment of the Protected Areas.
• Strengthening NGO’s advocacy: several NGOs and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) have been founded under the previous SCDP project. These bodies will be a subject to further enhancing in terms of involvement and role in biodiversity management and community development. NGOs and CBOs enable local communities to organize themselves towards advocacy of their traditional rights and natural resources.
• Direction of biodiversity conservation benefits to the local people: driving biodiversity benefits directly to local communities is the best method to stress their interest in conservation. Potential benefits will be identified and applied, one of the desired benefits to be setting legal instruments for certified commercial exporting of biological material, esp. endemic seeds.
• Support to the fisheries sector and training of professionals: Activities related to marine protected areas and their management, eco-tourism and sustainable fisheries management have been added to existing project components. A new component aimed on strengthening active participation of small scale fisheries to improve the marine resources management and to regulate the fishing intensity in the coastal zones of Socotra Archipelago was launched.
To sum up, the project is designed to create a framework that will internalize biodiversity considerations into the ongoing development of Socotra. The task is to guarantee that in the future, there will be no more cases like the former plan to build a road to Qalansyia going through a Sanctuary Zone of the Ditwah Bay. Local inhabitants and administration will have cognitive and decisive tools to understand that constructing a road to bring tourists to a town for the cost of damaging the tourist highlight in its vicinity goes against the idea of sustainable development of the island and against the wellbeing of its people.
Trade-offs will be made and not all of Socotra’s biodiversity can be protected. Anyway the project will allow informed decisions to be made by capable strategic planners and local users. While final decisions of democratically elected representatives cannot be predicted, it is expected that the impact of this mainstreaming approach will be not only the maintenance of Socotra’s biodiversity values but the maximization of biodiversity benefits for the Socotris.