Three decades ago, in 1972, the international community adopted the Stockholm Declaration, following the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Principle 1 of the Declaration highlighted a healthy environment as a fundamental human right, explicitly stating: ‘Man [sic] has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations...’ Since then, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and dozens of relatively new African national constitutions, have enshrined a healthy environment as a fundamental human right.
Of particular interest to Africa in the Stockholm Declaration was the condemnation in Principle 1 of apartheid, racial segregation, discrimination, colonial and other forms of oppression, and foreign domination. While these socio-political issues have virtually been eliminated in the region, the environmental objectives have been compromised in many ways.
Over the past 30 years, the environment in Africa has continued to deteriorate, resulting in environmental change which is making more and more people in the region vulnerable due to increased risk and inadequate coping capability. Such deterioration has been acknowledged at various fora, and the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) reported in 1987: ‘Today, many regions face risks of irreversible damage to the human environment that threaten the basis for human progress’ (WCED 1987).
The undervaluing of the environment is a major factor in terms of overexploitation of the environment (see Box 3.1).
|Box 3.1 Environmental concerns a priority|
Human vulnerability to environmental change is complex; it may, in fact, be as complex as ecological processes, where some cause and effect linkages are still not fully understood despite centuries of scientific research. Human vulnerability to environmental change has global, local, social and economic dimensions. It is not synonymous with disasters, even though such events generate more public awareness and response, and media interest (see Box 3.2).
|Box 3.2 Woman gives birth during flood disaster|