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'The key challenge is to reduce poverty. New approaches that put the poor at the top of the environment and development agenda could tap and release the latent energy and talents of Africans to bring about development that is economically, socially, environmentally and politically sustainable.'

GEO-2000, page 68

 Some statistics...

*  Africa is the only continent on which poverty is expected to rise during the next century.

*  An estimated 500 million hectares of land have been affected by soil degradation since about 1950, including as much as 65 per cent of agricultural land.

*  As a result of declining food security, the number of undernourished people in Africa nearly doubled from 100 million in the late 1960s to nearly 200 million in 1995.

*  Africa lost 39 million hectares of tropical forest during the 1980s, and another 10 million hectares by 1995.

*  Fourteen African countries are subject to water stress or water scarcity, and a further 11 will join them by 2025.

*  Africa emits only 3.5 per cent of the world's total carbon dioxide now and this is expected to increase to only 3.8 per cent by the year 2010.


Poverty is a major cause and consequence of the environmental degradation and resource depletion that threaten the region. Major environmental challenges include deforestation, soil degradation and desertification, declining biodiversity and marine resources, water scarcity, and deteriorating water and air quality. Urbanization is an emerging issue, bringing with it the range of human health and environmental problems well known in urban areas throughout the world. Growing 'environmental debts' in many countries are a major concern because the cost of remedial action will be far greater than preventive action.

Although many African countries are implementing new national and multilateral environmental policies, their effectiveness is often low due to lack of adequate staff, expertise, funds and equipment for implementation and enforcement. Current environmental policies are mainly based on regulatory instruments but some countries have begun to consider a broader range, including economic incentives implemented through different tax systems. Although cleaner production centres have been created in a few countries, most industries have made little effort to adopt cleaner production approaches. However, some companies and even local enterprises have recently voluntarily adopted precautionary environmental standards.

 Water stress in Africa

Click image to enlarge

By the year 2025, 25 African countries will be subject to water scarcity or water stress

There is growing recognition that national environmental policies are more likely to be effectively implemented if they are supported by an informed and involved public. Environmental awareness and education programmes are expanding almost everywhere, while indigenous knowledge receives greater recognition and is increasingly used. Environmental information systems are still weak.

There is fairly high interest in many of the global MEAs, and several regional MEAs have been developed to support the global ones. The compliance and implementation rate is, however, quite low, mainly due to lack of funds.

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