Note: This is the 1997 edition of UNEP's Global Environment Outlook. If you are interested in more recent information, please see the 2000 and 2002 editions.
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Chapter 2: Regional Perspectives

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Major Environmental Concerns

[ Land | Forest | Biodiversity | Water | Marine and Coastal Environments | Urban and Industrial Environments ]

Africa is a large continent with many different dynamics. Since the 1960s, it has experienced persistent and severe economic and environmental problems, as well as political and social turmoil in some countries. Its population growth rate-the world's highest - has placed additional strains on all systems. Poverty has perpetuated underdevelopment and mismanagement of resources in the region. Furthermore, deterioration in the terms of trade and lack of financial resources for investment have made it difficult for several countries to develop patterns of livelihood that would reduce pressure on the natural resource base.

However, this is only a part of African reality. Other significant changes have also occurred, including the dramatic demise of apartheid in South Africa, the end of civil wars and the subsequent accession of elected Governments to power in Angola and Mozambique, implementation of structural adjustment programmes in 35 countries that have successfully put in place economic reform measures, a surge towards political liberalization, and emergence of an increasingly strengthened civil society (UNDP, 1996). These are examples of social and political transitions towards peace and economic progress, although their impacts on the environment are yet to be assessed. Africa is at a critical turning point.

Amid these changes, environmental degradation continues. One of the major problems common to the countries of Africa relates to the great imbalance in the use of its natural resources: those such as soil and vegetation are overexploited, while water, energy, minerals, and organic resources are underused or exported raw. Striking a balance between economic development and sustainability for the growing number of people remains the major environment and development challenge. The two are interlinked, requiring a coherent and integrated regional approach for their solution. The difficulty of finding the right path is compounded by the region's great variance in cultural heritage and natural resource endowments.

Various regional fora of African Government leaders have consistently mentioned the following priority environmental concerns (UNECA, 1992, 1993a, 1993c; OAU, 1995; UNEP, 1996a):

  • land degradation and desertification problems, particularly in relation to the need for food security and self-sufficiency;
  • the protection and sustainable use of forests;
  • effective management and protection of biodiversity;
  • water resources issues, including the problem of water scarcity and efficient water management;
  • pollution problems, particularly those affecting freshwater resources as well as urban, coastal, and marine areas;
  • climatic problems, including drought and climate change; and
  • demographic change and population pressures on natural resources and in urban areas.


This continent contains the world's largest expanse of drylands, covering roughly 2 billion hectares of the continent or 65 per cent of Africa's total land area (UNEP, 1991a). One third of this area is hyper-arid deserts, while the remaining two thirds consists of arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas-home to about 400 million Africans, two thirds of the continent's total. Recurrent droughts are a permanent fact of life throughout the drylands of Africa. Severe droughts have seriously affected both agriculture and wildlife and caused deaths and severe malnutrition. With each drought cycle, desertification increases. Currently, 36 countries in Africa are affected by drought and some degree of desertification (UNEP, 1994). The risk of drought is high in the Sudano-Sahelian belt and in southern Africa.

Land degradation, which includes degradation of vegetation cover and soil degradation, has been identified as a major problem in Africa. The extent of the problem continent-wide is difficult to determine precisely due to lack of data, particularly on vegetation cover degradation. The Global Assessment of Soil Degradation (UNEP/ISRIC, 1990; UNEP, 1991c) estimated that about a half-billion hectares in Africa are moderately to severely degraded, corresponding to one third of all cropland and permanent pasture on the continent. Some national reports, especially in northern Africa, indicate much higher percentages of degradation.

The main causes of the soil degradation are overgrazing, particularly in drylands; extensive clearing of vegetation for agriculture; deforestation; extensive cultivation of marginal lands; the use of inappropriate agricultural technology; poor management of arable lands; and droughts (UNECA, 1992; Thomas and Middleton, 1993; Ohlsson, 1995). (See also Figure 2.1 a, b, c, and d.) Other contributors, particularly in the southern African countries, are thought to include land shortages, usually due to the unequal distribution of land, and the modernization of agriculture that has led to marginalization of subsistence farming (Dahlberg, 1994). All these activities lead to depletion of soil fertility, water and wind erosion, and salinization (UNEP/ISRIC, 1990; Thomas and Middleton, 1993).

Land degradation is exacerbating the existing natural constraints on agricultural production, including poor soil quality, variable climatic conditions, and reliance on rainfed agriculture. About 90 per cent of African soils are deficient in phosphorus, a key nutrient in the production of biomass. These soils also have low content of organic matter, and low water infiltration and retention capacity due to surface crusting. Moreover, about half the cultivable land (or three quarters of land already cultivated) is under arid and semi-arid conditions, so potential for irrigation is limited (World Bank, 1995).

Agriculture is the fundamental economic activity in most African countries, averaging 20-30 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in sub-Saharan Africa, and 55 per cent of the total value of exports (excluding the oil-producing countries). Yet land degradation, coupled with rapid population growth, is increasing deficits in food production and food insecurity. Although a serious information gap exists regarding the productivity impacts of degradation, rough estimates indicate that, on average, land areas affected by degradation have lost about 20 per cent of their productivity during the last decade (World Bank, 1995).


The 1990 Forest Resources Assessment by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated the extent of forests and other wooded land in Africa as about 1.14 billion hectares (approximately 38 per cent of total land area) some of which is in drylands.

The total area of tropical forests in Africa in 1990 was estimated to be approximately 530 million hectares, compared with 569 million hectares in 1980 (the average annual rate of deforestation was 0.7 per cent). (See Figure 2.2.) Africa's rainforests covered about 7 per cent of the land surface in 1992, representing slightly less than 20 per cent of the total remaining global rainforests. The forests of Africa are the most depleted of all the tropical regions, with only 30 per cent or so of the historical stands still remaining (UNEP, 1994).

Africa's closed canopy tropical moist forests range from the mangroves of Senegal on the west coast to the montane forests of Jevel Hantara near the eastern tip of Somalia. Most of the countries of western Africa were once clothed in forest from the coast to deep inland. Central Africa still contains vast and more or less continuous stretches of rainforest. Around 80 per cent of the rainforest on the continent is concentrated in this area, particularly in Zaire (see also Box 2.1, on the Congo Basin). Moving to the south of the continent, the main forest block gives way to dense miombo woodlands with scattered patches of dry deciduous type forest. In eastern Africa, the moist forest gradually disappears as the climate becomes more arid. In these areas, forests occur only in strips bordering rivers, along the tops or slopes of mountains, or on the wet coastal hills.

Box 2.1

Some Areas of Rich Biodiversity and Forests in Africa

Western Africa

The relic blocks of forests left at Gola in Sierra Leone, at Sapo in Liberia, and at Tai in Côte d'Ivoire are now of global importance as the last significant remains of the structurally complex and species-rich forests of the upper Guinea zone (UNEP, 1994). Some areas-such as Fouta Djallon, Mount Nimba, and Loma at the head of major watersheds in western Africa (the Niger, Senegal, and Gambia rivers)-encompass areas of exceptional biodiversity. These remaining centres of biodiversity are at risk (World Bank, 1995).

The Congo Basin

This area constitutes the second largest contiguous primary tropical rainforest area in the world. It has the lowest population density in Africa but the highest level of urbanization (52 per cent). One of the main economic activities is forest exploitation; others include mining, gas and oil exploration, and related industrial activities. Although the environment problems of the subregion are less severe compared with others on the continent, a future development challenge is to maintain the primary forest intact while drawing benefits from its local use (World Bank, 1995).

Islands of the Indian Ocean

The biodiversity of some of the island countries of the Indian Ocean are of global significance. The diversity of the landscapes in Madagascar and the extremely high level of endemism of its flora and fauna have put this country on the list of environmental priorities in the world (World Bank, 1995). Most of these species are found in the remaining forest areas.

It has been estimated that there were originally about 11.2 million hectares of eastern rainforest, which was reduced to 7.6 million hectares by 1950 and to 3.8 million hectares by 1985. The main causes of the deforestation are slash-and-burn (or tavy) agriculture and cutting of fuelwood to sustain the growing population. The population is still rural, surviving by subsistence agriculture (WCMC, 1992). Madagascar and parts of southern Africa were the home of the giant ostrich, or elephant bird, a huge, 3-metre-tall flightless creature whose 11 known species have long been extinct. The mummified bodies and gigantic eggs of this bird have been found in the Madagascar swamps. Their demise was probably caused by human activities (UNEP, 1994).

Other endemic species of the Indian Ocean islands include the red colobus monkey, found only on Zanzibar Island, and the different species of fruit bats or "flying foxes" found in the forests of Seychelles and Mafia and on the Pemba Islands of Tanzania.


UNEP.1994. The Convention on Biological Diversity: Issues of Relevance to Africa. Regional Ministerial Conference on the Convention on Biological Diversity. October. UNEP/AMCEN/RCU 7/1 (A), 27 July.

WCMC. 1992. Global Biodiversity: Status of the World Living Resources. World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Chapman and Hall. London.

World Bank. 1995.Toward Environmentally Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The total area of temperate forests in 1990 was approximately 13 million hectares, compared with 14.3 million hectares in 1980, indicating an average annual rate of decrease of 0.9 per cent (FAO, 1995). This was the highest rate of temperate-forest decline of all developing regions.

Deforestation is a major problem throughout Africa, although its causes and magnitude vary by region. The major cause is related to forest clearance for agriculture (particularly commercial farming and to some extent shifting cultivation) and the harvesting of fuelwood (SARDC, 1994a; UNECA, 1992). In 1980, one study estimated that cultivation accounted for 70 per cent of the deforestation (WCMC, 1992). In sub-Saharan Africa, 70 per cent of total energy consumed and 90 per cent of household energy are derived from wood fuel, and it has been estimated that in Africa each family uses at least 7 metric tons of wood a year (SADC ELMS, 1993).

An extensive shortage of fuelwood is already particularly apparent in the Sudano-Sahelian belt, including in Burkina Faso, Chad, The Gambia, and Niger (World Bank, 1995). Commercial logging is limited, but settlement and agriculture around roads built to transport timber has resulted in additional clearing of forest areas (World Bank, 1995). In northern Africa, deforestation is particularly severe in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (World Bank, 1994). What remains of the forests in humid West Africa are disappearing at the alarming rate of about 2 per cent a year, and exceeding 5 per cent in the extreme case of Côte d'Ivoire (World Bank, 1995). In eastern Africa, severe encroachment and exploitation are destroying the forests that occur in fragmented patches (UNEP, 1994). Additional causes of deforestation in southern Africa include clearing of land for refugee camps, construction materials, tobacco curing, and tsetse fly controls (SARDC, 1994b; Babu and Hassan, 1995).


Africa offers a wide spectrum of habitats and ecosystems. Biological diversity varies in complex ways, depending on local moisture regimes, topography, vegetation, and soil type. Countries such as Zaire, which has large areas of land in the humid tropics, and South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania-with impressively variable landscapes-are famous for their high species diversity and impressive wildlife populations. Some island States in the Indian Ocean are rich in endemic species (UNEP, 1994).

Savannahs (consisting of savannah woodland, tree savannah, shrub savannah, and grass savannah) are the most extensive ecosystem in Africa and provide a home for the majority of humans, livestock, and wildlife. They are the richest grassland regions in the world, with a high incidence of indigenous plants and animals and the world's greatest concentration of large mammals, particularly in northern Tanzania (WCMC, 1992).

Several African mountains and highlands have unique and rich biodiversity, with a number of endemic animal and plant species. These areas include mountain ranges or chains such as the Atlas, Rwenzori, and Aberdare mountains; more uniform volcanic cones such as Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Mount Cameroon; valleys and escarpments such as the Rift Valley and the Nile gorge; and highlands and plateaus such as those found in Ethiopia, Kenya, and southern Africa. Particularly in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, the sloping areas surrounding high altitudes are of great importance for development (UNEP, 1994).

Wetlands cover about 1 per cent of Africa's total surface area and are found in every country (WCMC, 1992). The largest include the Zaire swamps, the Sudd in the Upper Nile, the Lake Victoria and Chad basins, the Okavango Delta, and the floodplains and deltas of the Niger and Zambezi rivers. The diversity of flora and fauna of wetlands in Africa is immense and in many places unknown, with endemic and rare plant species and wildlife, including migratory bird species (UNEP, 1994). Many wetlands are under threat from conversion (drainage and filling), overuse, pollution from farm runoff and untreated urban and industrial effluents, and unplanned development. Also, the fact that freshwater fish are a primary source of protein and income in many local communities can threaten biodiversity. Furthermore, a substantial number of species in water masses are threatened with extinction from new species that were introduced in the absence of environmental impact assessments (WCMC, 1992), as happened in Lake Victoria (Roest, 1992).

The African coastal region is vast, and includes a variety of habitats. Diversity of fish species is high, with more than 4,000 species reported. Some of the most numerous and economically most important fish species are tuna, marlin, and billfish; tuna is a significant source of foreign exchange for a number of countries.

Various kinds of human activities are harming biodiversity in terms of habitat loss and degradation, resulting in, for example, loss of medicinal and aromatic plants of high value. Cultivation is perhaps the most significant cause of damage to ecosystems, involving large land areas and alteration of the landscape. The savannah was also greatly enlarged (usually at the cost of forests) through burning to improve grazing for livestock and to facilitate wild game hunting, forest clearance, and massive increases in the number of cattle (WCMC, 1992).

The margins of the seas are affected by humans almost everywhere. Habitats are being lost forever to the construction of harbours and industrial installations, the development of tourist facilities and mariculture, and the growth of settlements and cities. Increasing coastal erosion as well as pollution is also evident.

The adverse effects of poverty on biological resources are compounded by exploitation by a small but influential and affluent segment of the African population and by commercial firms hastening to satisfy market demands that often originate in other regions (UNEP, 1994).

African countries have taken steps over the years to conserve their biodiversity in its various forms. Protected areas have been established, for example, although they do not cover the full spectrum of biodiversity in the major ecosystems. The continent has 727 protected terrestrial areas (approximately 5 per cent of the total land area) and 112 protected marine areas (WRI/UNEP/ UNDP/WB, 1996).

A few countries (in particular, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa) have used one aspect of biodiversity-wildlife-for tourism development. Africa's share of international tourism was only 2 per cent in 1990 (World Bank, 1995), but it is a growing economic activity: for example, in southern Africa the number of tourists doubled between 1990 and 1994, and tourism contributed to about 3.4 per cent of the region's economy in 1994 (Hulme, 1996).

Although Africa's biodiversity generates considerable revenue, both for Governments and businesses as well as for industrial countries' commercial interests, more equitable distribution of these revenues to landowners adjacent to protected areas is needed to ensure the full and effective participation of local populations in the tasks of conservation and sustainable use of biological resources (UNDP/FAO, 1980; Makombe, 1993).


The availability of water in Africa is highly variable both in space and in time. Precipitation over the continent varies from practically zero over the Horn of Africa and the Namibian Desert to more than 4,000 millimetres a year in the western equatorial region. A large proportion of the continent is semi-arid, receiving between 200 and 800 millimetres a year of variable rainfall. Droughts that last between one and five years occur frequently.

The rainfall records from the early 1900s to mid-1980s show that the continent's average annual rainfall has decreased since 1968, and has been fluctuating around a notably lower mean level (UNEP, 1985). (See Figure 2.3.) The impact of variable rainfall and drought has been accentuated by land degradation and deforestation, which have led to more soil erosion and hence increased sediment transport-which adversely affects water quality, aquatic ecology, reservoir volumes, estuaries, ports, and hydroelectric dams (World Bank, 1996).

In Africa some 4 trillion (4,000 billion) cubic metres of renewable water is available annually, but only about 4 per cent is used (WRI/UNEP/UNDP/WB, 1996). (See Table 2.1.) The infrastructure and technical and financial means do not exist to use effectively the water available (UNEP, 1996b). Runoff is concentrated in limited upland areas (such as Fouta Djallon in Guinea, the Jos Plateau in Nigeria, the Cameroon Mountains, the Ethiopian Highlands, the Aberdares and the slopes of Mount Kenya, and Mount Kilimanjaro and Lesotho and Swaziland Highlands), and relatively few lengthy rivers run through downstream dry terrain (for example, into Sudan and Egypt for the Nile River). The fresh water available to downstream countries, often with a dry climate, depends on actions taken by upstream countries to develop their own water resources (World Bank, 1996).

The continent's ground-water resources, although widespread, are limited. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 15 per cent of the renewable water resources is ground water and more than three quarters of the population uses this as their main source of supply (World Bank, 1996). There are a few large sedimentary basins in the region with substantial renewable ground-water reserves and numerous smaller sedimentary aquifers along the major rivers, coastal deltas, and plains.

Ground-water quality is deteriorating in some areas due to lack of proper assessment and management, which leads, for example, to overexploitation (World Bank, 1996). This is particularly true in northern Africa.

The proportion of people without access to adequate water is greater here than anywhere else: Africa has 19 of the 25 countries in the world with the highest percentage of populations without access to safe drinking water (WRI/UNEP/UNDP/WB, 1996). West and central Africa have more than enough water on a per capita basis, but in most other areas, population growth and economic development create excess demand over supply.

For example, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia suffer water scarcity and stress (Population Action International, 1994). In Libya, more than 100 per cent of the renewable water supply is already being consumed, and fossil water is also being tapped. The freshwater supply is particularly limited in the Sudano-Sahelian belt and parts of southern Africa. (See also Figure 2.4.)

All the countries in continental sub-Saharan Africa share one or more river basins. There are at least 54 rivers or water bodies cross or form international boundaries in the region. However, few are effectively managed jointly. The Nile, Zambezi, Volta, and Niger rivers and Lake Victoria all have the potential to create serious conflicts as well as cooperation and economic integration.

The various activities competing to use fresh water include individual consumption, agriculture, fisheries, industry, power supply, livestock, wildlife resources and recreation, and watershed protection. The competition is becoming more intense, increasing the potential for conflicts at local, national, and regional levels (World Bank, 1996). The most important issue for Africa is to increase investment and cooperation among riparian States to manage the freshwater resources in an efficient and sustainable manner (UNEP, 1996b).

Rapid population growth, urbanization, industrialization, and the drive for food security are putting pressures on water resources, both in terms of quantity and quality. Domestic wastewater, industrial effluents, and agrochemicals are polluting both freshwater and coastal resources, causing health hazards, eutrophication, and stress on aquatic and marine ecosystems. For example, diarrhoeal deaths from consumption of contaminated water in Africa are the highest in the world, and other water-related diseases such as schistosomiasis, malaria, onchocerciasis, and filariasis are also common (World Bank, 1996).

Marine and Coastal Environments

The African coastline is vast and traces a variety of habitats-from open ocean, near-shore waters, and sandy and rocky islands to beaches, lagoons, sand dunes, mud and sand flats, rocky cliffs, sea grass beds, coral reefs, and mangroves. Some of the waters surrounding Africa, particularly those from the Straits of Gibraltar to Guinea, are among the richest fishing grounds in the world, and the marine areas from Angola south to the Cape also contain great wealth (UNEP, 1985). Fish species diversity is high, including some of the most numerous and economically important fish. For many countries, especially in western Africa, fish is the main source of protein; Nigeria consumes the continent's largest quantities of fish (UNEP, 1994). The east coast of Africa, with the possible exception of Somalia, is not as fortunate; there the resources range from moderate to poor (UNEP, 1985).

Fishing and tourism are the main forms of marine resource use in Africa. Tourism is having an increasing impact, for example, in North Africa [Centre for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe (CEDARE), personal communication, 1996]. Exploitation of mangrove forests is also an important economic and subsistence activity in many countries (SARDC, 1994c), and the cutting of these forests causes serious threats to the habitat. Dynamite fishing, the most environmentally destructive fishing method, is used along the coast. Although it is illegal in many countries, the laws are not actively enforced (UNEP, 1996b).

Several eastern African countries are constructing dams for hydroelectric power (UNEP, 1990) and in western Africa nearly all the main rivers have been dammed in at least one location (UNEP, 1989), blocking sediments and nutrients as well as fresh water. Excessive erosion of river mouths and delta areas (often the site of mangrove forests) and recession of shorelines and even disappearance of islands and towns (such as the town of Keta on the western coast) have occurred because of a reduced supply of sediment. The reduction in sediment and nutrient supply also affects the spawning and growth cycles of marine fish and prawn species as well as fisheries further offshore (UNEP, 1990).

The decrease in freshwater discharge in the estuarine areas alters the extent of salt-water intrusion, with significant effects on the coastal ecosystems. For example, the mangrove swamps and rain- forests of the Niger Delta have been damaged by salt-water intrusion (UNEP, 1990). The possible impact of sea level rise is also a high concern in the coastal and island countries of Africa (UNEP, 1996b).

Marine and coastal pollution problems do exist in Africa, although the scale of industrial activities is relatively limited and the size of population in relation to the length of coastline is also relatively small compared with other regions (UNEP, 1989 and 1990). (See Figure 2.5.) The Mediterranean Sea, however, is one of the most polluted water bodies (CEDARE, personal communications, 1996). In Africa, little sewage is treated, and effluents from growing industries are discharged into city sewage systems, rivers, and the coastal environment (including the sea, estuaries, and lagoons) mainly untreated and unchecked.

Pollution has many impacts on major coastal systems, such as the Niger Delta, where aquatic life and habitats are damaged (World Bank, 1996). In eastern Africa-for example, in Madagascar-soil erosion and consequent siltation as well as agrochemical pollution are increasing as a result of the development of irrigation, rice cultivation, and expanded and intensified agriculture into marginal, often sloping, areas (UNEP, 1990). In countries such as Mozambique and Tanzania, expanded, relocated, and new settlements in coastal areas and river plains, as well as overexploitation of mangroves for timber and fuelwood, are also increasing soil erosion problems and habitat loss for aquatic species, including shrimp and prawns (the largest contributor to the Mozambique's foreign exchange) (UNEP, 1990; Dalal-Clayton, 1995; Dejene and Olivares, 1991).

A number of other development activities are leading to major changes in coastal areas. The growth of towns and seaports and the dredging of harbours are some examples. Most coastal countries of western Africa have exploitable oil reserves. The main exploitation takes place in the area between Nigeria and Gabon. The cases of oil spillage in Nigeria have caused some significant local problems (UNEP, 1990). Environmental impacts from oil production, transportation, and related industrialization is also a concern in some North African countries, particularly Egypt, Libya, and Algeria (CEDARE, personal communication, 1996). In addition, the Iraq-Kuwait conflict had negative environmental impacts (UNEP, 1991b).

Urban and Industrial Environments

Urbanization is increasing rapidly in Africa. With only 35 per cent of its population living in cities, Africa is the least urbanized continent in the world. Yet the urban population soared from 83 million in 1970 to 206 million in 1990 (Morna, 1996), and the number of cities with more than a million inhabitants increased from only one 30 years ago to 18 by 1990 (World Bank, 1995). Lagos in Nigeria and Cairo in Egypt are the world's fifteenth and eighteenth largest cities, with average annual population growth rates in 1990-95 of 5.68 and 2.24, respectively (WRI/UNEP/UNDP/WB, 1996). In the least developed countries, urban growth rates are among the highest in the world, at nearly 5 per cent a year. Between 1990 and 1995, some of these countries, including Burkina Faso and Mozambique, registered urban growth rates of more than 7 per cent a year (WRI/UNEP/UNDP/WB, 1996).

The main causes of urbanization are rapid population growth, natural disasters, ethnic tensions, and armed conflict. With 7 million refugees and 17 million internally displaced people, Africa has the highest number of people in the world forced to leave their homes (Morna, 1996). Additional reasons for rural-urban migration, which are generally true for developing countries, include the prospect of jobs and higher incomes in urban areas, poverty and lack of land in rural areas, and declining returns from agricultural commodities. (See also the discussion of social causes of environmental deterioration later in this section.)

Most African cities have not been able to develop the basic environmental services (such as solid waste disposal systems, sewage treatment, and adequate industrial and vehicle pollution control) to keep pace with the rapid growth of new urban dwellers. This has led to a steady deterioration of the urban environment, with a particularly strong impact on poorer people. For instance, urban health hazards resulting from a lack of clean water and proper sanitation particularly affect the poor. Reliable data are lacking on the scale and intensity of urban poverty in Africa. Although the incidence of rural poverty is still significantly higher, it seems that the difference is narrowing (WRI/UNEP/UNDP/WB, 1996).

Much of the urban population growth is in coastal cities. In North Africa, for example, the coastal zones along the Mediterranean are the most inhabited areas (Serhal et al., 1994). The rapid growth of coastal cities is one of the most pressing environmental concerns in the subregion (CEDARE, personal communication, 1996). Coastal zones bring all the pressing environmental issues together in one place-those related to agriculture, fisheries, water management at the interface between marine and river systems, infrastructure, and urban and industrial development. Most Governments, even in industrialized countries, do not have robust institutional mechanisms to deal with such complex systems in an integrated manner (World Bank, 1995).

Air pollution levels in the region are still low, but are emerging as a problem at local levels, particularly in major cities. In most countries and cities, pollution is neither monitored nor controlled. There is virtually no long-term study of pollutant impacts at the local or regional level. The primary sources of air pollution are coal and biomass burning, mining and manufacturing industries, and vehicles. Household burning of fuelwood, charcoal, and coal creates indoor pollution and local health hazards, and the burning of grasslands and forests also contributes to particulates and elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The harmful effects of pollution are exacerbated by poor nutrition. Air pollution is emerging as a major problem in South Africa and to some extent in Zimbabwe, in areas where energy use and industrial development are essentially based on mineral coal (SARDC, 1994a; Ohlsson, 1995; Dalal-Clayton, 1995).

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