AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives
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Refugees from a degraded agricultural land living in a slumin Kenya, Nairobi

Mark Edwards/Still Pictures

ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: IMPACTS ON PEOPLE

The environment is life, supporting people and other living things. Environment is widely recognized as a ‘pillar’ of sustainable development. It provides essential goods and services which contribute to meeting basic human needs, and is essential to human development and quality of life. It provides services to ecosystems, including water catchments which protect freshwater resources, wetlands, riverbank environments, biodiversity habitats and ecologically functioning landscapes. The environment is also a sink of the wastes generated from different human activities.

In Africa, there is a high dependency on agro-sylvoecological systems, which are very sensitive to the impacts of the state of the environment and environmental change. The root causes of environmental change have both natural and humanmade factors, and include interactions between them.

The environmental changes which have occurred in Africa since 1972 have been highlighted in Chapter 2, which provides a comprehensive overview of the key issues facing the region today. The changes highlighted in Chapter 2 do not only have regional dimensions, but also have sub-regional and national implications. Global processes also influence environmental change in Africa, for example, greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on climate change. The vulnerability of people in the region to environmental change, therefore, manifests itself—to a lesser or greater extent—at these different levels, and is a major factor in terms of sustainable development in Africa.

One of the impacts of human vulnerability to environmental change is the forced movement of people, creating what has come to be known as environmental refugees. The notion of environmental refugees describes a new insight on an old phenomenon—large numbers of the world’s least secure people seeking refuge from insecure biophysical environments (Geisler and de Sousa 2000). Although the phrase ‘environmental refugee’ is controversial among advocates of the classical definition of refugees (political and social), it has gained in popular usage. It has been estimated that, globally, there were 25 million environmental refugees in 1994, more than half of whom were in Africa (Myers 1994).