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Africa: Environmental Threats/Opportunities
Sep 10, 2006 (060910)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Many of Africa's ecosystems are not just serving the region, but
the whole world, for example, through the carbon soaking value of
tropical forests. This alone probably equals or exceeds the current
or exceeds the current level of international aid being provided to
"In other words it is the developing world, and some of the poorest
countries, that are helping the global community by freely removing
large levels of the gases causing climate change," concludes Achim
Steiner of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), in a
commentary written for the recent launch of the second edition of
the Africa Environmental Outlook Report. Africa's environmental
resources, the report notes, face numerous threats, but sustainable
management could also bring many development benefits. The report
is available at http://www.unep.org/dewa/Africa .
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the commentary by Steiner, as
well as a press release from UNEP on the publication of the atlas
of Africa's Lakes, announced at the World Water Week international
meeting in Stockholm.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains excerpts from
the atlas of case studies on Lake Chad and Lake Victoria.
For an earlier AfricaFocus Bulletin on related issues, see
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Africa's Natural Resources Key to Powering Prosperity
By Achim Steiner
United Nations Environmental Programme
[The Author is an Under Secretary General of the United Nations
and the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment
Programme headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.]
Africa's leaders looking to economic priorities for the Continent
should be putting the environment high on the list.
For report after report is now demonstrating that the sustainable
management of Africa's natural resources is one of the keys for
overcoming poverty. Sensitively, creatively and sustainably
harvested and fairly shared these resources can assist in meeting
and going far beyond the internationally agreed development
The 20th century was an industrial age the 21st century is
becoming increasingly a biological one.
Africa, with its natural wealth or 'nature capital' residing in
its ecosystems-from forests up to coral reefs- can be a leading
player on this multi billion dollar stage.
Africa's wealth of natural resources has always been an asset and
has sustained her people during good and hard times. But their
true value, the sheer scale of the wealth of Africa's freshwaters
and landscapes up to its minerals and marine resources, has been
invisible in economic terms.
Only now are we getting glimpses, only now are the real economic
figures coming to the fore.
Take the wetlands of the Zambezi River Basin. According to
estimates, outlined in the new Africa Environment Outlook-2, the
economic value in terms of crops and agriculture alone of these
wetlands is close to $50 million a year.
The wetlands also have other economic importance. In terms of
fisheries, nearly $80 million a year and in terms of maintenance
of grasslands for livestock production, over $70 million
Wetland-dependent eco tourism is valued at more than $800,000
annually and natural products and medicines associated with
wetlands on the Zambezi, worth over $2.5 million a year.
And it is not just wetlands. Take biodiversity for example and
take the gorillas of the Great Lakes Region.
The AEO-2 estimates that tourism linked with gorilla watching now
brings in around $20 million a year.
It is a point echoed across the Continent. South Africa's coastal
waters and unique wildlife are generating something like $30
billion a year in economic and tourist-based activities.
It can be a virtuous circle. In Madagascar, where nature-based
tourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner, over 40
new protected areas covering about two per cent of its land area
have recently been established.
Many of Africa's ecosystems are not just serving the region, but
the whole world. You do not have take UNEP or the AEO-2's word
Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize-winning economist, estimates
that the carbon sequestration or carbon soaking value of tropical
forests- such as those in the Congo River Basin-- probably equals
or exceeds the current level of international aid being provided
to developing countries.
In other words it is the developing world, and some of the
poorest countries, that are helping the global community by
freely removing large levels of the gases causing climate change.
Some developed countries are recognizing that debt. They are
turning to creative market instruments to repay it in a way that
balances the need to fight poverty with a need to sustainably
manage these income-generating natural resources.
Only some days ago France signed a debt-for-nature swap with
Cameroon under which $25 million will be invested in people and
in nature in the Congo River Basin. This is part of the wider
Congo River Basin Partnership initiative, born at the World
Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, involving the basin's
six countries and a range of other governmental and
Many countries in Africa, like the Gambia, are now mainstreaming
environment into their Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. They
are also starting to turn to market instruments to balance
economic concerns with environmental ones.
Only the other week Tanzania announced, in its budget, VAT
exemptions for liquefied petroleum gas in order to reduce energy
production from charcoal and wood. Kenya has announced that solar
panels and related equipment will be zero rated.
Countries in Africa are also becoming increasingly aware of the
costs of inaction--of the price economies pay for lax
environmental management and ecological degradation. A recent
study in Egypt has found that pollution and environmental damage
is costing that country alone over five per cent of its GDP.
AEO-2 was compiled by UNEP and researchers and scientists across
Africa for the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment.
But I sincerely believe it is essential reading for Africa's
health, planning and transport ministers up to Africa's finance
ministers and heads of state.
For while the report is on one level a state of the environment
report, it is also a pre-investment document Why?. Because it
underlines how little of Africa's natural wealth is actually
being sustainably harvested. One figure. Africa has numerous
tourist attractions, yet it contributes only four per cent
annually to the multi billion dollar global tourism industry. And
another. Africa's renewable freshwater resource is, at close to
4,000 cubic km per year, about 10 per cent of the global
freshwater resource and closely matches Africa's share of the
world population. Yet in 2005 only about five per cent of the
development potential is being used for 'industry, tourism and
hydropower," notes the report.
AEO-2 is also a kind of shareholders prospectus for a promising
new enterprise. For it sets out choices as to how Africa's
leaders, through the New Partnership for Africa's Development
(NEPAD), might wish to develop this natural wealth in a
Africa urgently needs investment in hard infrastructure from
roads and railways to ports, airports, schools and hospitals. But
it equally needs investment in its soft infrastructure in the
ecosystem goods and services provided by nature. Investment to
maintain and manage these natural resources well: Investment to
unleash their huge economic and development potential for the
benefit of the 800 million people in Africa today and for the
generations to come.
Atlas of Africa's Lakes Launched at World Water Week in Stockholm
Forest Loss, Invasive Species, Land Degradation, Pollution and
Inefficient Irrigation Taking Their Toll
UNEP News Release
Stockholm, August 2006 - The dramatic and in some cases damaging
environmental changes sweeping Africa's lakes are brought into
sharp focus in a new atlas.
Produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the
"Africa's Lakes: Atlas of Our Changing Environment" compares and
contrasts spectacular satellite images of the past few decades
with contemporary ones.
It was formally launched in hard copy at World Water Week taking
place in Stockholm, Sweden, between 20 and 26 August 2006.
The rapid shrinking of Lake Songor in Ghana, partly as a result
of intensive salt production, and the extraordinary changes in
the Zambezi River system as a result of the building of the
Cahora Basa Dam sit beside more familiar images of the near 90
per cent shrinkage of Lake Chad.
Other impacts, some natural and some human-made and which can
only be truly appreciated from space, include the extensive
deforestation around Lake Nakuru in Kenya.
Satellite images that document the falling water levels of Lake
Victoria are also mapped. Africa's largest freshwater lake is now
about a metre lower than it was in the early 1990s.
Achim Steiner, UNEP's Executive Director, said: "Lakes and the
natural goods and services they supply to communities, countries
and regions are of huge economic significance. In the United
States, for example, the value of freshwater resources for their
recreational value alone is estimated at $37 billion a year".
"I hope that the images in the Atlas will sound a warning around
the world that, if we are to overcome poverty and meet
internationally agreed development goals by 2015, the sustainable
management of Africa's lakes must be part of the equation.
Otherwise we face increasing tensions and instability as rising
populations compete for life's most precious of precious
resources," he added.
Mr. Steiner's concerns are highlighted in a separate publication,
entitled "Hydropolitical Vulnerability and Resilience along
International Waters in Africa", also on show at World Water
Compiled by UNEP and the University of Oregon in the United
States, it assesses the strength of legal agreements between
countries sharing the continent's major water systems.
The report concludes that, in order to reduce tensions between
nations, much more needs to be done to beef up legal agreements
and treaties and to avoid instability in the future.
It points to the Volta River basin in West Africa, shared between
Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Togo, as
being a particular source of concern.
Over the next two decades, population levels are set to double to
around 40 million causing a dramatic demand for water.
Meanwhile rainfall and river flows in the region have declined
steadily in the past 30 years with this partly linked to higher
evaporation rates as a result of climate change.
"Current water use patterns in the Volta Basin have already
stretched the available resources almost to their limits and it
will be increasingly difficult to satisfy additional demands,"
says the report.
"With the sustainability of the Volta Basin under threat, there
is urgent need for basin states to cooperate more closely to
jointly manage the basin's water resources," it adds.
Some Lake Facts and Figures
The precise number of lakes, both natural and human-made (dams
and reservoirs), in Africa is unknown. But the WORLDLAKE database
puts the number at 677.
Globally there are an estimated 50,000 major natural and 7,500
In Africa Uganda with 69 lakes, has the highest number followed
by Kenya, 64; Cameroon, 59; Tanzania, 49 and Ethiopia, 46.
Gabon, with just eight lakes has the fewest in Africa, followed
by Botswana, 12 and Malawi, 13.
Africa has about 30,000 cubic kilometres of water in its large
The annual freshwater fish catch in Africa is around 1.4 million
tonnes of which 14 per cent comes from Egypt.
However the damming of rivers across the continent allied to the
disposal of untreated sewage and industrial pollution has reduced
the catch particularly in the Nile Delta and Lake Chad.
Wetlands, often associated with lakes and river systems, are
important for wildlife, water supplies and filtering of
The most important include those in the Okavango Delta, the Sudd
in the Upper Nile, Lake Victoria and Chad basins and the
floodplains and deltas of the Congo, Niger and Zambezi Rivers.
However, many are being drained as pest control measures or for
agriculture. Niger, for example, has lost more than 80 per cent
of its freshwater wetlands over the past 20 or so years.
Close to 90 per cent of water in Africa is used in agriculture,
of which 40 to 60 per cent is lost to seepage and evaporation,
says the Atlas.
Lake Songor, a brackish coastal lagoon in Ghana, emerges as one
of the most dramatic visual changes in the Atlas. The lake is
home to fish and globally threatened turtles, like the Olive
Ridley and green turtle, as well as important bird populations.
In December 1990, it appears as a solid blue mass of water some
74 square kilometres in size. But by December 2000, the water
body is a pale shadow of its former self.
Intensive salt production and evaporation at the western end,
seen as dark blue and turquoise squares, is thought to be largely
to blame. Agricultural extraction of water from feeder rivers
like the Sege and Zano may be also taking its toll.
The lake, with some 30 million people living around it, supports
one of the densest and one of the poorest populations in the
world. Around 1,200 people per square kilometre live in and
around the lake. Average annual income is less than $250 per
An estimated 150,000 square kilometres of land, equal to 25,000
football pitches, have been affected by soil degradation of which
13 per cent has been severely degraded.
The efforts needed to meet the needs of an additional five
million people over the next two decades will be immense.
The water level of the lake rose in 1998 as a result of the El
Niño rains but, over the last 10 years, it has dropped by about a
metre according to measurements by the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite.
Invasive water hyacinths have caused havoc to shipping and the
fishing industry. However the introduction of a pest to control
the weed has had noticeable impact.
Satellite images from 1995 and 2001 show that the green swirls of
hyacinth have disappeared from many of the Ugandan bays like
Buka, Gobero, Wazimenya and Murchison.
Located 60 km from St Louis in Senegal, this lake is a haven for
some three million birds such as Great White Pelicans and the
Arabian Bustard. It once was a series of thin lakes surrounded by
streams, ponds and back waters.
Satellite images underline how the lake and its surrounding area
have been changed dramatically since the building in 1986 of the
Diama Dam 23 kilometres from the mouth of the Senegal River.
The sheer volume of water available has now shifted local
agriculture from seasonal, flood-based farming, to year round
The atlas highlights other dramatic changes linked with dams such
as the formation of Lake Cahora Basa on the Zambezi River after
the building of a barrage in the 1970s.
The atlas links many ecological and other changes that have
occurred since the natural river flow was changed. These include
the decline of flood-dependent grasslands, the drying out of
mangroves and the fall in water levels on the tributary Shire
River which has significantly affected navigation.
The dramatic loss of vegetation and deforestation around Lake
Nakuru in Kenya is also vividly seen from space. This may be part
of the reason why the lake, according to UNEP experts, declined
in area from about 43 kilometres to 40 in 2000.
Satellite images of other key African lakes covered in the atlas
include Lake Alaotra in Madagascar; Lake Bin El Ouidane in
Morocco; Lake Ichkeul in Tunisia; Lake Kariba in Zambia/Zimbabwe;
Lake Nyos in Cameroon; Lake Sibaya in South Africa; Lake St Lucia
in South Africa, Lake Tana in Ethiopia and Lake Tonga in Algeria.
Notes to Editors
These publications "Africa's Lakes: Atlas of Our Changing
Environment" and "Hydropolitical Vulnerability and Resilience
along International Waters Africa" have been prepared under the
auspices of the African Ministerial Council on Water (AMCOW),
who's Chairperson and President, Mrs. Maria Mutagamba, Minister
of State for Water Resources, Uganda, has gladly provided the
High resolution images of all of the 'before and after' satellite
images can be found at http://na.unep.net/AfricaLakes. Or go to
http://www.unep.org. Copies of this publication are available on order
from EarthPrint.com - UNEP's online bookstore at:
For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP
Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: 254 20
7623084, Mobile: 254 (0)733 632755 or 41 79 596 5737, e-mail:
Or contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on
Tel: 254 20 7623088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, e-mail:
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