4 July 2006

Gambia: Africa's Wealth of Nature-Based Resources, Key to Economic Prospects


Hundreds of millions of people in Africa depend directly or indirectly on the natural resource base.

African governments acknowledge this fact and have put in place measurements to safeguard this valuable asset. The plan proposed concrete measures to address the interface between environment and development, and stipulated, among others, the need for African governments to define realistic policy options, strategies and programmes for incorporating environmental considerations in our development planning.

The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEM) was established in 1985 to enhance regional cooperation in environmental policy responses and on technical and scientific activities to minimise degradation and to place a premium on environmental goods and services that are essential to sustainable development.

To implement this in a rapidly globalizing world, there is a need for a dynamic and strategic vision, supported by a strong information base. Therefore, during its 8th session in 2000, in Abuja, AMCEM requested the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to facilitate the production of an Africa Environment Outlook (AEO), thereby launching a new and rewarding process and strengthening the partnership between UNEP and AMCEN.

The AEO is a flagship report which tracks regional environmental state and trends, as well as emerging issues. Since the publication and launch of the first report in July 2002, strategic planning within the environment landscape in Africa has changed. The environmental reporting framework at the national and sub-regional levels, has been significantly strengthened and some 22 countries and five sub-regions have produced their environment outlook reports using the AEO methodology.

Building on the momentum generated by the first report, AMCEN, with the support of the UNEP, has over the past four years produced the second Africa Environment Outlook (AEO-2) report on the theme, 'Our Environment, Our Health'.

The Africa Environment Outlook 2 (Our Environment, Our Health) is an integrated and participatory environmental assessment, which examines the state of the existing resources and highlights the opportunities and potentials (current and future) of these to sustainable development, poverty reduction and enhancing environmental sustainability.

In meeting development objectives and targets, Africa faces multiple and complex challenges. It therefore needs to reposition itself to take advantage of trade opportunities and provide a conducive environment for investment, economic growth and employment generation. At the same time, it must reduce human vulnerability to environmental change and hazards, and improve living standards, while ensuring that the environment is used sustainably.

To successfully deliver on all these fronts without compromising those rights of future generations, requires not only good national and regional policies, but also supportive global policies and practices.The AEO-2 report is the achievement of Africa's institutions and experts, and is a further demonstration that Africa has the human resources and skills to chart its own destiny and realise the dream of an African renaissance.

The AEO-2 report was launched on 27 June 2006, in Nairobi, Kenya by the Executive Director of the UNEP, Mr.Achim Steiner. In his launching address, he warned that poverty in African can be made history if the region's wealth of natural resources is effectively and sustainably harnessed. He said outstanding issues like rapid rates of deforestation, high levels of land degradation, wasteful water use in agriculture and climate change remains and need to be urgently addressed.

Mr.Steiner disclosed that other challenges include genetically- modified organisms, the cost of alien invasive species, up to a switch of chemical manufacturing from the developed to the developing world.

The UNEP Executive Director said, "The report challenges the myth that Africa is poor. Indeed, it points out that its vast natural wealth can, if sensitively, sustainably and creatively managed, be the basis for an African renaissance- a renaissance that meets and goes beyond the internationally-agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)".

Achim Steiner warned that, "if polices remain unchanged, political will found wanting and sufficient funding proves to be elusive, then Africa may take a far more unsustainable track that will see an erosion of its nature-based wealth and a slide into deeper poverty." He said according to the AEO-2, from freshwater to forests and from minerals to the marine environment, the region is only realising a fraction of its nature-based economic potential.

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