Chapter 2 describes the current state of the environment in Africa, outlining its physical attributes in terms of: the atmosphere; land; biodiversity; forests; freshwater, marine and coastal areas; and the urban environment. The chapter demonstrates that the African environment is under constant pressure, primarily from people and from nature. Given the rate at which natural resources are currently being degraded in the region, it is easy to conclude that the African environment is a highly threatened environment, and one in which the future seems mostly uncertain. And so it is not only desirable, but pertinent, that Africans should create a sustainable environment for their current and future needs. It is necessary, therefore, to redefine sustainable development, actively focusing on the reconciliation of the environmental and socioeconomic objectives of development with an adequate consideration of the needs of present and future generations.
An equally pressing issue, addressed in Chapter 3, concerns the fact that vast proportions of the population in various African countries are vulnerable to disasters resulting from the use of the environment and from social tensions which often develop when multitudes of people live together. There is a general belief that it is the poorest people who are most susceptible to these disasters. The poor are also unable to cope with the misfortunes that follow such disasters because coping mechanisms are generally poorly developed in many countries. The need to protect people who are vulnerable to disasters should be a critical component of decision-making processes.
The current state of the African environment, and the vulnerability of large populations in the region to environmental and human-induced disasters, pose an additional challenge to studies of the environment. Much of the challenge relates to the creation and maintenance of a sustainable environment whilst, at the same time, recognizing the need to develop the economic and social resources of nations. The creation of a sustainable development strategy requires insight both into the present and into the future. Since the future is, by definition, unknown, there is a need to develop mechanisms and methodologies which facilitate an understanding of the future.
This chapter will explore, compare and contrast different scenarios regarding the development of the African environment in the future. It will show which of these scenarios has the greatest promise for the region over the next 30 years.