United Nations Environment Programme
environment for development Search 
News Centre
 Home News Centre
 Media Contacts
 Press Releases
 In Focus
 RSS / Podcasts

 Printable Version

The State of Africa's Environment Chronicled in Ground-Breaking Report: Hard Facts Tough Choices

Kampala/Nairobi, 4 July 2002 - Growing populations, wars, high levels of national debt, natural disasters and disease have all taken their toll on the people and the rich natural environment of Africa in the past three decades.

Over the coming three decades new and emerging threats, including climate change, the unchecked spread of alien, introduced species, uncontrolled expansion of cities and pollution from cars and industry are likely to aggravate levels of poverty, environmental decline and ill-health.

Many African countries are now attempting to address some of the root causes of environmental degradation through initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). But a far bigger effort, by countries within and outside the Continent, is needed to steer Africa on a prosperous, environmentally-sustainable, course.

Actions include deeper cuts in Africa's debt burden, a boost in overseas aid, the empowering of local communities, enforcing environmental agreements, introducing green and clean technologies and allowing African countries fair access to international markets for their goods and services

Without this, Africa is unlikely to develop in a way that benefits its people, its landscapes and its wildlife and ultimately the world, the report says.

These are some of the findings from the Africa Environment Outlook (AEO). The report, compiled by UNEP for the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), has involved hundreds of experts. It is the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of the Continent's environment ever produced.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said at the launch in Kampala, Uganda: " This pioneering assessment on the state of Africa's environment will be invaluable for governments on the Continent and across the world in prioritizing efforts to achieve a new dawn for these lands. It will also be a vital report for nations meeting at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) which opens at the end of August in Johannesburg".

"The right decisions cannot be made without the right facts. We have those here in the AEO. It chronicles where Africa has been, where it is now and possible directions for the future with an array of positive and negative consequences. At the beginning of this new century we have all the resources, both financial and technological, to build Africa and the lives of its citizens and to conserve its astonishing biological richness and diversity. There is a new, more supportive, mood in the international community to overcome Africa's difficulties. There is a new resolve among African nations to cooperate in achieving an environmentally-friendly future. I urge countries across the world take the findings from the AEO and finally seize the opportunity to deliver responsible prosperity to this Continent," he said.

Climate - Africa's people and economies are heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Records since 1900 show that Africa's annual rainfall has been decreasing since 1968, possibly as a result of global warming due to man-made emissions.

There is also evidence that natural disasters, particularly drought in the Sahel, have become more common and more severe. Countries regularly affected by drought include Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritania and Mozambique.

Droughts and floods are increasing pressure on fragile lands and leading to the displacement of people and wildlife as well as adding to increased soil erosion and the silting up of rivers, dams and coastal waters.

There can also be severe economic consequences. In Uganda, the record rains of 1997 destroyed 40 per cent of its 9,600Km feeder road network. Between 1997 and 1998, a prolonged drought in the Seychelles led to the closure of the Seychelles Breweries and the Indian Ocean Tuna Company.

Emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas, have risen eight-fold since 1950 in Africa to 223 million metric tonnes of carbon. However, these are still less than the emissions of a developed country such as Germany or Japan. South Africa accounts for 42 per cent of these emissions. Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria combined account for 35.5 per cent.

Despite contributing very little to global, greenhouse gas, emissions, Africa is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of global warming as a result of its dependency on agriculture and lack of financial resources to offset these impacts.

The Gulf of Guinea, Senegal, Egypt, the Gambia, the eastern African coast and the Western Indian Ocean islands are at particular risk from rising sea levels. A one metre rise would flood large areas of the Nile Delta and the Egyptian city of Alexandria would be severely affected. A similar rise would swamp 70 per cent of the Seychelles.

Meanwhile, significant extinction of plants and animals is anticipated over the coming decades affecting rural livelihoods and tourism if global warming continues unchecked. 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 per cent drop in rainfall.

Crop yields in some parts of Southern Africa may fall by as much as 20 per cent. It is also predicted that malaria carrying mosquitoes will spread to Namibia and South Africa over the coming decades, the AEO report says.

Fifty-two African countries are parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and 16 have now drawn up action plans aimed at improving land productivity, land rehabilitation and sustainable management of water resources.

Early warning systems on rainfall and drought have been established across the Continent. Mechanisms, agreed under the Kyoto Protocol which is the legal instrument for fighting climate change, could benefit Africa economically and socially by providing cleaner and greener energy sources and financial incentives to plant carbon dioxide absorbing trees.

Air Pollution - Africa has the highest rate of urbanization in the world. This, along side taxes that encourage dirty fuels, a sharp rise in the import of often older model cars and out-dated, inefficient industrial plant, is increasing levels of air pollution.

A study of transport in Senegal, found that the health costs associated with vehicle emissions were among the factors costing that country the equivalent of five per cent of its Gross Domestic Product. (GDP)

In Northern Africa, especially where there are refineries and coal power stations, many cities experience levels of sulphur dioxide double the World Health Organization's standard. The number of motor vehicles, many of which are older ones, in this sub-region has nearly doubled in the past 10 to 15 years. In Uganda, Eastern Africa, the number of road vehicles has quadrupled since 1971. Older cars emit up to 20 times more pollution than newer ones.

The use of wood as a fuel can increase the health risks for women and children in the home. In Tanzania, for example, children under five who die from acute respiratory infections are three times more likely to have been exposed to the burning of such fuels, says the AEO report.

Many countries have brought in air quality standards and regulations to control pollution, although currently lack of resources makes enforcement difficult. In Senegal, tighter controls on the importation of cars from abroad, including a requirement that they are not older than five years old, has been proposed and could be a blueprint for other African countries.

Renewable energy schemes, such as wind, solar and waste-into-energy projects are starting to be introduced in some countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Mauritius. Egypt has introduced unleaded petrol and South Africa has signed the United Nations Motor Vehicle Emissions Agreement.

Biodiversity - Africa has some of the most species-rich areas in the world, ranging from the Mediterranean Basin Forests of the north to the Guinean Forest, the Western Indian Ocean islands and the Succulent Karoo of South Africa and Namibia. The latter is the world's richest desert where 40 per cent of its over 4,800 plant species are unique and found nowhere else on the globe.

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.

A total of 126 animal species are recorded as now being extinct, with 2,018 threatened. Over 120 plants are now recorded as extinct with 1,771 threatened.

Africa's wildlife has enormous economic potential. For example, the economic benefits of Uganda's biological resources are estimated at US$ 741 million annually. An estimated 70 per cent of the wild plants in Northern Africa have potential value in fields such as medicine, biotechnology and crop improvements.

Madagascar has the highest number of unique species in Africa and is ranked sixth in the world for its biological richness. Many plants there are being studied for potential commercial use including the native Coffea species which may be a source of natural, caffeine-free, coffee.

Ethiopia has the greatest genetic diversity of key crops such as durum wheat and linseed.

The biological richness of Africa is also economically important for tourism. For example the Kakum National Park in Ghana attracts thousands of visitors a year.

Actions to protect, conserve and promote sustainable use of the Continent's biological resources and indigenous knowledge, in many cases through partnerships with local communities, tribes and ecotourism operators, have got underway in many countries. Many countries are now parties to key conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species. In Northern Africa, for example, there are now 102 protected areas. In Egypt, researchers and the Bedouin, have documented local medicinal plants and set up nurseries.

Giraffes have been successfully re-introduced into Uganda's Kidepo Valley National Park from Kenya and the Mauritius Pink Pigeon has been saved and numbers boosted to 300 in the wild through a Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust project.

Southern Africa now has 578 protected areas, up from 260 in 1989. Over 5,000 samples of mainly traditional food crop seed species have been collected by members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)for preservation at a genetic resource centre in Lusaka, Zambia. In Nigeria, plans have been drawn up for ecotourism in the Gashka Gumpti Natiional Park, home to chimpanzees.

Coastal and Marine Environments - Africa's rich coastal and marine areas are under threat from pollution, over harvesting of resources such as fish, erosion and the potential impacts of climate change says the AEO report.

Indeed an estimated 38 per cent 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. The report says that 40 per cent of Nigeria's mangrove swamps, important fish nurseries, buffers against erosion-causing waves and sources of construction materials, had already been lost by 1980.

The damming of the Nile River at Aswan has reduced the level of nutrients so much, that the sardine catch in the Nile Delta has slumped from 22,618 million tonnes in 1968 to under 13,500 million and is still declining.

Over harvesting of fish by local and foreign fleets is leading to a decline in stocks. The shrimp catch in the west and central Gulf of Guinea is estimated at 4,700 tonnes, which is deemed unsustainable. In some countries, for example Ghana and Liberia, the average diet contains less fish protein now than it did during the 1970s. Local supplies across most of Africa are forecast to decline over the next 10 years as a result of insufficient resources, such as fishery patrol vessels, to enforce controls. Fish farming is unlikely to help as farmers are expected to focus on high value species for export to places like Europe.

Northern Africa is one of the exceptions. Here total catches of marine fish have climbed by 30 per cent since 1990 to about 1.1 million tonnes. Yet despite ineffective fishing controls, the fisheries there show no signs of over exploitation. However the marine environment of this area is at risk. In the Red Sea, pollution linked with insensitive tourism, dumping of wastes and leaks and oil spills from ships, is seen as a key threat.

In Eastern Africa, as in many parts of Africa, erosion as a result of beach-front developments and mining of sand, coral and lime, has become a common problem. Sediment from coastal erosion also clogs up and chokes important marine habitats, such as coral reefs, damaging their value for tourism and fisheries. Coastal erosion rates are, along some parts of Western Africa such as Togo and Benin, now as high as 30 metres a year.

The problem is being aggravated by environmental degradation in the interior including poor agricultural land use and the clear felling of trees which stabilize soils during heavy rains.

In the Western Indian Ocean islands, dynamite fishing, walking on coral reefs, recent high sea temperatures and illegal use of nets, are damaging the economically important reefs. Like many parts of Africa, discharges of untreated solid and liquid wastes are becoming a major problem. In Mauritius, two-thirds of coastal residents discharge wastes into the sea, and in the Comoros there are no wastewater treatment works at all.

Laws, requiring environmental impact assessments before developments can be undertaken, have been introduced by many African countries including Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria and South Africa.

Regional and sub-regional programmes and action plans, such as UNEP's Regional Seas Programme, are providing the framework for a more holistic management of Africa's coastal zones. Several important agreements and conventions have been created including the Nairobi, Abidjan and Jeddah conventions. However there is a desperate need for more trained staff, finance, equipment, research, monitoring, surveillance and enforcement of regulations.

Notes to Editors. The African Environment Outlook is available at http://www.unep.org/aeo or http://www.grida.no/aeo or at Earthprint http://www.earthprint.com price $37.50

For More Information Please Contact. Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 733 632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org or Angele Luh, Information Officer, Regional Office for Africa, on Tel: 254 2 624292, Mobile: 254 0722 716135, E-mail: angele.luh@unep.org

UNEP News Release 2002/50