FAO-SWALIM adjusts its modus operandi to overcome the physical limitations of the pandemic

How a land and water management project in Somalia is staying on track despite COVID-19

FAO-SWALIM adjusts its modus operandi to overcome the physical limitations of the pandemic

19 May 2020, Mogadishu - When COVID-19 suddenly emerged in Somalia, authorities imposed an international travel ban to prevent spread of the deadly infection. For 14 government staff members from Somaliland and Puntland who were going to receive induction training for the Integrated Land and Water Resources Management (ILRWM) project, their plan was doomed; the training would have to be postponed.

But organizers got creative and found a new way to reach participants and make sure the knowledge transfer went ahead.

ILRWM is funded by the European Union and is implemented by the FAO-managed program Somalia Water and Land Information Management or SWALIM. In the context of Somalia, land and water management is crucial to managing agriculture and food production systems, human health, climate change and biodiversity conservation.

Since 2003, SWALIM has been championing information management on Somalia’s water and land resources. In the last couple of years, Somalia’s various government administrations have pushed to speed up the transfer of SWALIM’s mandate to Somali institutions. Given its vast expertise in the field of information management, SWALIM was well placed to transfer the required capacity into Somali-managed institutions. It goes without saying: pressure was high to continue delivering despite the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19.

Stepping up online capacities

SWALIM quickly decided to step up the use of teleworking facilities by setting up a Microsoft Teams space and providing guidance on its use for daily communication to keep on implementing ILWRM activities. The online meeting platform would allow interactive induction thematic sessions to happen on time, connecting the Nairobi-based technical team and the two Information Management Centres (IMC) teams; one based in Garowe, Puntland, and another in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

“The European Union is committed to help Puntland and Somaliland authorities build solid institutions and regulatory frameworks. Indeed, these IMCs will allow effective decision-making and management of the vital land and water resources of the country,” says Hjordis D’Agostino Ogendo, EU Delegation Head of Section for Resilience, Infrastructure and Productive Sectors.

“The production of land and water resources information is key for Somalia’s erratic weather patterns. Considering the long experience gained and the effective existing collaboration with the Government, SWALIM was identified by the European Union as the preferred partner to build capacities around these topics in Somalia,” says Ugo Leonardi, SWALIM Chief Technical Advisor a.i.

Induction training

Induction training could not wait. Four IMC staff induction sessions in the four thematic areas of SWALIM took place: Water, Land, Information Management and Geographic Information Systems/Remote Sensing.

“The induction training was productive. It provided the necessary overall information about SWALIM activities that will enable us to perform our tasks, fulfilling the project expectations,” says Mohamed Ahmed, a water resources officer at the IMC in Garowe. “I have got great insight about the previous water resources activities, especially weather monitoring, drought monitoring, ground water monitoring, hydro-geology study, and so on,” adds Mohamed.

The IMC participants were taken through intensive introductions of each resource area and each day-to-day activity that would allow effective and successful implementation of the ILWRM project. To support the establishment of the two fully-fledged IMC institutions, SWALIM is currently developing questionnaires to assess the various needs for capacity development among the IMC staff members. It is the first step towards providing enhanced mentoring, knowledge transfer and product dissemination workshops.

“The ultimate aim is to produce highly skilled Somali experts in the field of land and water information management,” says Leonardi.

For Ismail Khalif, a water resources officer at the IMC in Puntland, the induction training has given him a deeper understanding. “I have gained a full understanding of SWALIM project phases from 2000 up to now [sixth phase], as well as the progress of the projects from the collection of the previous/existing data through the different projects that have finally created a huge database,” he says.

Committed to fight COVID-19 through a new modus operandi

The SWALIM management team is regularly updating via email all staff based across all duty stations (Nairobi, Mogadishu, Hargeisa and Garowe) on the evolving COVID-19 pandemic situation. SWALIM encourages staff to stay safe, remain vigilant, and strictly adhere to government guidelines aimed at reducing the COVID-19 infections, while remaining productive.

Besides the virtual induction of IMC staff, and in support of authorities to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, SWALIM has also adopted online one-on-one training sessions on all its five major units, and SWALIM experts are providing virtual on-the-job lecture sessions.

SWALIM liaison office staff based in Garowe and Hargeisa  are conducting practical field-based experience sessions. This training includes methodologies for data collection, reporting, data analysis and product dissemination related to the specific ILWRM planned activities. Also, as part of this specific support to staff members, SWALIM provides internet bundles to help them stay online.

“All in all, this virtual approach to managing project activities has proved to be very effective, while ensuring that activities are not interrupted,” says Leonardi. No matter the challenges, SWALIM stays on track.

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