AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives

RATIFICATION OF MULTILATERAL ENVIRONMENTAL AGREEMENTS (MEAS)

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Figure 5.1 Safe water and child health in African countries

(Source: UNDP Human Development Report 2001)

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Figure 5.2 Safe sanitation and child health in African countries

(Source: UNDP Human Development Report 2001)


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Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs) aim at protecting Africa's unique biodiversity.

UNEP

The majority of African states have ratified the MEAs that are of relevance to the region, at both global and regional levels. MEAs are recognized as the primary instruments for state commitment to the pursuit of sustainable development (UNEP/ SIDA 1996). The main MEAs of the past two decades have covered areas of critical importance for the management of environmental resources. They include: new and additional resources for environmental programmes; technology transfer; mechanisms for addressing vital matters such as the loss of biological diversity and poverty alleviation; and institutional frameworks for dealing with environment and development concerns (UNEP/SIDA 1996). Although the various global agreements clearly give grounds for hope where management of the environment is concerned, actual achievements have been very limited (UNEP/SIDA 1996). The agreements signify a collective will to address environmental problems, but many African countries have been unable to benefit from the full potential offered by the global MEAs, and have even found themselves unable to effectively implement the necessary provisions of the MEAs they have ratified (UNEP/SIDA 1996). Furthermore, even regional and subregional environmental agreements have been difficult to operate, largely due to lack of adequate and sustainable financial and human resources. Examples are the Abidjan and Nairobi conventions. Both of these were developed in the 1980s under the auspices of UNEP's Regional Seas Programme. However, the Nairobi Convention took 11 years to come into force and neither convention succeeded in establishing a fully

operational Regional Coordinating Unit (RCU). Under impetus from African governments, UNEP is now taking steps to compensate for these delays and shortcomings and a Joint Secretariat for the conventions has been set up to coordinate and build synergies between ongoing projects and programmes in Central, Western and Eastern Africa. But success has also been achieved, when financial assistance has been made available. An example is the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). Launched in 1999, the NBI is an initiative on the part of the riparian countries to establish a basin-wide framework to fight poverty and promote economic development in the Nile Basin area. The Nile Basin is home to around 160 million people and, although it has a rich natural endowment of high mountains, tropical forests, woodlands, lakes, savannas, wetlands, arid lands and deserts, it is characterized by poverty, instability and environmental degradation. Furthermore, its population is expected to double in the next 25 years placing, increasing the stress on water and other natural resources. The NBI is based on a shared underlying vision, 'to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.

And, finally, there are more than 500 multilateral agreements in existence and, while African countries are not signatories to them all, the sheer number of agreements is too great to be managed by African countries with small economic bases.

PROMOTION OF REGIONAL AND SUB-REGIONAL COOPERATION

... there are more than 500 multilateral agreements in existence and, while African countries are not signatories to them all, the sheer number of agreements is too great to be managed by African countries with small economic bases.

African states are participating actively in various international fora aimed at developing collective responsibility for the environment. This is the case of the MEAs, which the majority of African countries have ratified under impetus from AMCEN and with technical support from UNEP. The decision of African states to establish AMCEN was a key enabling factor for improvement of environmental management in Africa and for successful policy response. AMCEN's efforts have been further strengthened by sub-regional organizations devoted to economic cooperation and environmental management.

Considering the number of regional and subregional groupings, Africans appreciate the contributions of these organizations to economic development and environmental management. Unfortunately, many of them lack financial sustainability. It is, therefore, critical that suitable institutional capacity-building and financial mechanisms be developed for these organizations.

INTRODUCTION OF ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES, LAWS AND INSTITUTIONS

Perhaps the greatest effort in policy responses to combat environmental degradation in Africa has been in the area of environmental policy and legal reform. Not long ago, most African countries had limited institutional instruments for environmental management, or had instruments that were outdated or sectoral and, therefore, narrowly focused. The National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) processes adopted by some African countries have allowed them to formulate relevant environmental policies and to enact new laws. New environmental policies have also provided guidance for the formulation or review of sectoral policies and, subsequently, of laws.

There are a great many policies, laws and regulations in place in most African countries which, at first sight, should provide a sufficient basis for sound environmental management. More could be formulated or drafted if need be, although more policies does not necessarily mean better environmental management. However, the fact that Africa's environment continues to deteriorate in spite of such a substantial body of policies, laws and regulations may be an indicator of a low level of implementation and, particularly, of enforcement. The sectoral approach to environmental management often results in contradictory laws. However, other problems, such as inadequate finances and human resources capacity, hinder effective implementation.

Although African states have improved the policy framework for more effective management of the environment, there is need for more. For example, there is a need to develop policies governing the management of transboundary resources, and a need to ensure that the policies of neighbouring countries are in harmony with one another. Other policy gaps include frameworks for access to genetic resources and the management of indigenous knowledge.

... the fact that Africa's environment continues to deteriorate in spite of such a substantial body of policies, laws and regulations may be an indicator of a low level of implementation and, particularly, of enforcement.

New environmental laws have also facilitated the creation of institutions responsible for coordinating, supervising and monitoring environmental management in African countries. Horizontally, these relate to the various sectoral agencies of government; vertically, they relate to lower levels of government and civil society. African countries are investing heavily in building the institutional capacity for better environmental management. New institutions have been created and, sometimes, old ones rehabilitated. However, many of these countries are experiencing significant shortages of skilled personnel, partly as a result of the 'brain drain'. Some of the poorer countries, such as Uganda, have embarked on Universal Primary Education (NEMA 2001), but such commendable efforts will take time to yield results. There is, therefore, a need to provide training opportunities for those in the relevant institutions to fill the skills gap in the short and medium terms. African countries will also need to address the 'brain drain' issue, by offering their trained personnel meaningful employment opportunities and better working conditions.

While the new national institutions for environmental management represent significant improvements over the previous ones, the viability of some of them is questionable because of heavy reliance on external financing. A number are currently being financed through Official Development Assistance (ODA) from bodies such as the World Bank. Mechanisms are therefore needed to make these institutions financially self-sustaining. Also, by their very nature as national institutions, the new agencies have a limited capacity to address sub-regional and crossborder environmental issues. While sub-regional environment and development organizations such as the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGAD) exist, they too are, to some extent, limited by their mandates. Africa needs a strong institution that can negotiate, lobby and monitor and, at the same time, encourage harmonization of environmental management approaches. Such an institution, which could possibly be an arm of AMCEN, currently does not exist.