AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives

Mitigation of natural habitat loss

The typical response to warnings of loss of natural habitat in the past 30 years has been to increase the number and extent of protected areas. Although initially the establishment of protected areas was not always based on biodiversity assessments or threats to certain habitats, in recent years tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have been used to identify areas of particularly high conservation priority such as unique habitats or especially species-rich habitats (Burgess, de Klerk, Fjeldså, Crowe & Rahbek 2000). Protected areas in Africa are shown in Table 2b.1

Table 2b.1 protected areas in Africa, 1999
  Nationally Protected Areas Internationally Protected Areas
 
  Terrestrial Marine Biosphere Reserves* World Heritage Sites Ramsar Sites
  No Area (000 ha) % Land area No. No. Area (000ha) No. Area (000ha) No. Area (000ha)
 
Central 69 31 161 33.1 10   11 3 034 7 9 121 8 4 228
Eastern 119 11 981 N/A 16   7 1 126 5 454 5 105
Northern 72 15 862 7.8 50   13 N/A 2 >13 22 >2 000
Southern 578 65 014 N/A 44   8 N/A 10 7 850 27 12 026
Western 123 28 724 68.2 25   15 31 112 10 1 2003 37 3 674
WIOI 89 N/A N/A 3   3 N/A 3 N/A 4 53
Total 1050 N/A N/A 148   57 N/A 37 >29 441 103 >22 086
 
Source: Ramsar 2002, UNDP and others 2000, UNEP 1999,UNESCO 2002 Data not available for Burundi,Cape Verde,Comoros, Djibouti, Sao Tome & Principe, Seychelles & Swaziland *Some Biosphere Reserves are also World Heritage Sites or Ramsar sites

Only six African countries (Botswana, Burkina Faso, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tanzania) have more than the international target of 10 per cent of their land area under protection (World Bank 2001). Absolute percentage area is not, however, the only important consideration in conservation efforts. International efforts and regional partnerships have contributed toOnly six African countries (Botswana, Burkina Faso, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tanzania) have more than the international target of 10 per cent of their land area under protection (World Bank 2001). Absolute percentage area is not, however, the only important consideration in conservation efforts. International efforts and regional partnerships have contributed to biological conservation both within and outside of protected areas. Wetlands, for example, have received much attention through the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 (and known as the 'Ramsar Convention'). The Convention provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Thirty-three African countries are party to the Ramsar Convention (February 2002), and there are 103 'Ramsar sites' in Africa with a combined area of over 20 million hectares.

In recent years the concepts of World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves, and Transborder Parks have also been influential in establishing conservation priorities. World Heritage Sites are sites considered to be of global ecological and cultural significance. There are 35 of these in Africa, totalling 37 million hectares (UNDP, UNEP, World Bank & WRI 2000).

The concept of Biosphere Reserves-developed in 1971 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), together with Conservation International-established biosphere reserves to protect whole ecosystems rather than selected species. Biosphere reserves include areas in which various types of human activity are allowed. There are currently 50 such reserves in Africa covering a total of 52 million hectares (UNDP and others 2000).

Tr ansborder parks are protected areas that over-run national boundaries and in which the relevant countries share the conservation activities, as well as the benefits. The first of these, the Kgalagadi Tr ansfrontier Park, was established in 1998, between Botswana and South Africa, allowing free migration of species within the Kalahari Desert. Table 2b.1 shows protected areas in Africa.

Protected areas do not, however, meet all of Africa's needs in terms of conservation of natural habitat. In some countries war, poaching, and encroachment by refugees or local communities claiming traditional ownership of the land have contributed to loss and degradation of vegetation, water, and species composition. Lack of resources to enforce protection of protected areas also constitutes a major barrier to their effectiveness. In addition, concern has been expressed at the potential loss of species (or local extinctions) within such areas if they become too insularized. One study has shown that six species of large diurnal mammals have become locally extinct in Tanzanian parks in the last 80 years. This problem could be alleviated by the establishment of corridors, or through protection outside of parks, to facilitate recolonization (Newmark 1999). Furthermore, the purpose of conserving habitats is to allow present and future generations to benefit from the resources and services they provide. Programmes of sustainable use of natural resources should therefore also be considered in addition to exclusion of human activities from some areas. To this end, Community Based Natural Resource Management Programmes (CBNRM) have been implemented in parts of Africa such as Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda, with varying degrees of success in terms of socio-economic development of surrounding communities and protection of threatened habitat (Hulme & Murphree 2001).

Private reserves have also been created as a means of promoting habitat protection. Although there are few assessments of the effectiveness of this approach, surveys carried out in 1989 and 1993 in Latin America and Africa concluded that private reserves were generating substantial employment and that their profitability was increasing. They also noted that African reserves were larger than those in Latin America (with an average size of 11 436 ha). A follow-up study concluded that the effectiveness and profitability of private reserves were sufficient for them to warrant greater support as agents of sustainable development and conservation (Alderman 1991, Langholz 1996).

Fifty-two African countries are party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and most have shown their commitment at the national level through the development of National Environmental Action Plans (NEAPS) and National Conservation Strategies. Financial assistance through the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Bank, UNEP and UNDP's Global Environment Facility (GEF) offer opportunities to overcome some of these barriers and to promote sub-regional cooperation in conservation.