Africa is Committed to Environmental Sustainability

By Paul Okediji (This is a summary of the MDG 2012 Report for Africa on Goal 7)

The importance of environmental sustainability lies in the fact that it has great impact on reaching most of the other MDGs. A well preserved and properly managed environment is a strong foundation for sustainable development and poverty reduction. In Africa, most of the countries have shown great commitment towards this goal.

As at 1990, Africa had 31.2% of land covered by forest. But by 2010, this had shriveled to 28.1% as a result of over exploitation driven by increasing population, economic development and the need for humans to meet their basic needs.Benin, Ghana, Comoros, and Nigeria are among the worst hit. Only nine African countries witnessed an improvement in forest cover. This poses a serious challenge as most rural livelihoods often depend on productive forests that support employment and income.

CO2 emission per capita is an important indicator of the progress towards the 7th MDG. The continent as a whole emits a very little amount of greenhouse gases relative to its population and other regions of the world. However, considering Africa’s vulnerability to climate change given its low capacity to respond and adapt, addressing climate change issues  and ensuring climate-resilient development through adaptation and mitigation have become the priorities for governments and development agencies.

Majority of African nations are on the right track as regards reducing carbon dioxide emissions and phasing out the consumption of ozone-depleting substances. Similarly, countries such as South Africa have committed to promoting clean and renewable energy generation, as well as forestation.

The target to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation has been met globally in advance of the deadline, but not in Africa. Between 1990 and 2010, the proportion of those with access has indeed increased from 56% to 66%, but this is still far away from the 78% target to be met by 2015. Some regions are even experiencing reversals, probably due to rapid urbanization and growth of slums.

Overall, it can be said that there have been increases in the proportion of population using an improved drinking water source, but there are glaring disparities in the rural-urban distribution. Nonetheless, the good news is that number of African countries with access to an improved water source is climbing. According to the 2012 MDG report, no country had a coverage rate of less than 50%, an improvement from four countries with less than 50% coverage in 1990.

In spite of these improvements, many countries are still facing a lot of challenges in meeting MDG 7. Some of these include the lack of coordination in overseeing authorities, arising from an unclear definition of roles and responsibilities plus lack of harmonization of laws and policies related to environmental management; and inadequate staffing of government departments in charge of handling environmental issues. In light of these, opportunities for development still exist and should be exploited. New global resources can be tapped to strengthen countries’ sustainable development. Environment-favoring policies should be enacted and given priority. Also,well-thought-out public–private partnerships for addressing climate change should be brought into play.

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