27 April 2005

Africa: Scientists Warn of Life Threatening Degredation

Kampala — A landmark study released on April 22 has revealed that approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth are being degraded or used unsustainably.

The life supporting ecosystems include fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water regulation, and the regulation of regional climate, natural hazards and pests.

Scientists who conducted the study warn that the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years.

The research, which was conducted by 1,300 experts from 95 countries specifically states that the ongoing degradation of ecosystem services is a road block to the Millennium Development Goals agreed to by the world leaders at the United Nations in 2000.

"Although evidence remains incomplete, there is enough for the experts to warn that the ongoing degradation of 15 of the 24 ecosystem services examined is increasing the likelihood of potentially abrupt changes that will seriously affect human well-being," said the study.

It warned of the emergence of new diseases, sudden changes in water quality, creation of "dead zones" along the coasts, the collapse of fisheries, and shifts in regional climate.

Mr Bob Watson, World Bank Chief Scientist and Co-chair of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report said that this degradation is mainly affecting people in developing countries including Uganda.

He said most poor people depend on ecosystems like forests, swamps, wetlands and lakes, which are being highly degraded. He says poor countries will not be able to escape poverty or improve poverty reduction, unless the situation is brought under control.

According to the report, the challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands by the human population can be met under some scenarios involving significant policy and institutional changes.

The report mentions options that exist to conserve or enhance ecosystem services that reduce negative trade-offs or those that will positively impact other services. It says that protection of natural forests, for example, not only conserves wildlife but also supplies fresh water and reduces carbon emissions.

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