UN reveals the ‘hard facts’ about Africa’s future


Rapid population growth, wars and high levels of national debt, disasters and disease have all taken their toll on the people and the rich natural environment of Africa over the past thirty years.

Now, new and emerging threats, including climate change and uncontrolled urban expansion and pollution, look set to aggravate the continent’s levels of poverty, environmental decline and ill-health even further over the next three decades.

This is according to an African Environment Outlook (AEO) report, released by the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) on Thursday.

The report was issued to coincide with the start of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (Amcen), which is being held over two days in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

South Africa’s Environmental Affairs Minister, Valli Moosa, is attending the event.

In a statement on Thursday, his ministry said the conference would ”deliberate on various environmental issues affecting the continent and chart a way forward”.

African environment ministers would also discuss the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, set to take place in Johannesburg from August 26 to September 4, the statement said.

The AEO report, compiled by hundreds of experts, was described in an accompanying Unep press release as ”the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of the continent’s environment ever produced”.

Titled ”Hard Facts, Tough Choices, 30 Years”, it calls for a greater effort — by countries both within and outside Africa — to steer the continent on a prosperous, environmentally-sustainable course.

”Sharp increases in air and water pollution, land degradation, droughts and wildlife losses are facing Africa, unless urgent action is taken to deliver environmentally friendly development for its citizens,” it says.

Such action should include deeper cuts in the continent’s debt burden, a boost in overseas aid, empowering local communities, enforcing environmental agreements, and introducing ”green and clean” technologies.

It should further include ”allowing African countries fair access to international markets for their goods and services”.

On climate change and its impact on Southern Africa, the report says if global warming continues ”significant extinction of plants and animals is anticipated over the coming decades, affecting rural livelihoods and tourism”.

”Hartebeest, wildebeest and zebra in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park could be severely threatened by a suggested five percent drop in rainfall.

”Crop yields in some parts of Southern Africa may fall by as much as 20%.

”It is also predicted that malaria-carrying mosquitoes will spread to Namibia and South Africa over the coming decades.”

The report singles out South Africa as responsible for 42% of the continent’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

Emissions of the gas — the main cause of global warming — had risen eight-fold in Africa since 1950, to 223-million tons of carbon.

On air pollution across the continent, the AEO report says although many countries have now established air quality standards and regulations, a lack of resources was making enforcement of these difficult.

Further, Africa’s wildlife, which had ”enormous economic potential”, was facing severe threats.

”Economic pressures to boost timber, crops, and mineral exports, are –alongside other activities, such as slash and burn agriculture, poaching, invasive alien species, a lack of awareness of the value of biological resources, and inadequate enforcement of conservation laws — putting increasing pressure on the continent’s wildlife.”

On biodiversity, it says a total of 126 animal species are now extinct, with 2 018 threatened. Over 120 plant species have also disappeared, and 1 771 more are threatened.

Africa’s coastal and marine environments are under severe threat from pollution, over-fishing, erosion and ”the potential impacts of climate change”.

”An estimated 38% of coastal ecosystems, such as mangrove swamps and coral reefs, are under threat from developments, such as ports and the growth of coastal settlements and their sewage discharges.”

Over-harvesting of fish by local and foreign fleets have also led to declining stocks, the report says. – Sapa

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Richard Davies
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