Stop Using Growth as an Excuse to Pollute, African Activists Say

Extreme flooding hit Dar es Salaam, Tanzania after unusually heavy rains saturated the East African capital city in April 2014.

Extreme flooding hit Dar es Salaam, Tanzania after unusually heavy rains saturated the East African capital city in April 2014. Photo by Peter Stanley. Copyright Demotix.

[Most links lead to French-language pages]

On World Environment Day (WED) 2014, environmental activists across Africa took the opportunity to caution against forsaking the environment in the rush to promote economic growth. This is not a zero-sum game, they warned. 

The theme for the U.N.-sanctioned day this year on 5 June was ‘raise your voice, not the sea level‘ with a focus on island nations facing the treat of climate change. Many regions throughout the African continent are vulnerable to climate change — mainland and islands alike. Blog out of Madagascar explained in a post earlier this year:

Avec le développement des villes côtières en Afrique et en Asie, les plus pauvres de leurs résidents sont pour la plupart rejetés aux confins des zones habitables, là où les conséquences du changement climatique entraînent les plus grands dangers.

En Afrique subsaharienne, les chercheurs ont identifié la question de la sécurité alimentaire comme le défi suprême, en raison des risques de sécheresse et d’inondation et sous l’effet de la modification des régimes de précipitations. Avec un réchauffement de 1,5 à 2 °C, sécheresse et aridité rendront entre 40 et 80 % des terres agricoles impropres à la culture du maïs, du millet et du sorgho à l’horizon 2030-2040.

With the development of coastal cities in Africa and Asia, the poorest residents are jettisoned to the margins of residential areas, places where the consequences of climate change pose the greatest dangers.

Researchers in sub-Saharan Africa identified the main challenge as compromised food safety due to rainfall pattern changes and the risks of drought and flooding. A temperature increase of between 1.5 to 2°C could cause drought and aridity and render 40 to 80% of agricultural land unfit for cultivation of maize, millet and sorghum by the 2030s.

The Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), an initiative launched by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2002, published various studies and articles on the environment over the year. On March of 2014, prior to WED, Dr. Denis Sonwa analyzed the difficulty reconciling forestry protection with the needs of development in an article on the CBFP website:

Contrairement aux perceptions dans le monde développé, le développement et la conservation ont été perçus comme antagonistes dans les pays en voie de développement. La forêt et la production agricole intensive semblent être incompatibles. Selon un récent rapport de la Banque mondiale, certaines des conditions (éloignement, faible niveau de financement et d’investissement dans le secteur agricole, peu d’exploitation minière, faible consommation énergétique par ménage, etc.), qui ont contribué au maintien de la biodiversité et au stockage du carbone forestier en Afrique centrale, changeront dans un avenir proche, avec un risque d’augmenter la déforestation. Sans forte volonté et sans changement en profondeur, consistant à aller au-delà du secteur de la biodiversité pour la sauver, les efforts actuels risquent d’être vaines. 

Contrary to perceptions in the developed world, development and conservation were seen as mutually exclusive in developing countries. Intensive agricultural production seems to be incompatible with forestry. According to a recent report by the World Bank, some of the conditions (remoteness, low level of funding and investment in the agricultural sector, little mining, low energy consumption per household, etc.), which have contributed to maintaining of biodiversity and forest carbon storage in Central Africa, will change in the near future, with a risk of increasing deforestation. Without great will or profound change, such as going outside the biodiversity sector to save it, current efforts are likely to be in vain.

In Mauritania, singer and human rights activist Malouma dedicated a video to WED with lyrics set to images by Frederic Bacuez and published on She sings:

Arrêtons de massacrer Arrêtons de polluer Sous prétexte de bâtir Y aura-t-il un sauveur ? Le ciel, votre protecteur Et la terre, votre mère Les plantes vos soeurs Et l'eau votre source Eh compagnons ! Protégez la nature

Let's stop killing / Let's stop polluting / Using growth as an excuse / Will there be a savior? / The sky, your protector / And the earth, your mother / Plants, your sisters / And the water, your spring / And friends! / Protect nature

Raphael Kafando analyzed the link between food self-sufficiency and climate change on blog, comparing the concept of green economy to the realities of his own country, Burkina Faso:

Dans un Etat où l’autosuffisance alimentaire reste une priorité, où l’industrie reste embryonnaire et que l’Etat veut à tout prix attirer les investisseurs, l’environnement est-il la première préoccupation ? ? Dans un pays où le boom minier est considéré comme une aubaine inespérée et où l’objectif est de donner du travail aux chômeurs sans forcément tenir compte de la pollution de ces industries, peut-on vraiment parler d’économie verte ?

In a country where food self-sufficiency remains a priority, industry is still in its infancy and which is keen to attract investors at any price, is the environment the number one concern? In a country where the mining boom is regarded as a godsend and the priority is getting the unemployed into work without actually considering the pollution produced by these industries, can we really talk about the green economy?

Julien Dembele of Senegal wrote impassioned tribute to former United States Vice President Al Gore for his ‘personal crusade’ for the environment. Dembele also wrote a French-language article entitled ‘Top 10 Reasons to Protect the Environment‘ stating:

Un environnement sain égal une santé assurée […] En 2003, l’OMS a rapporté que 21% des maladies de l’homme étaient directement liés à l’environnement. Trois facteurs principaux ont été identifiés comme responsables de près des trois quarts des maladies dues à l’environnement. Il s’agit de – l’eau, l’assainissement et l’hygiène ; – la pollution de l’air domestique ; – les traumatismes d’origine physique. Des actions sur ces trois facteurs permettront une réduction importante des maladies liées directement à l’environnement, ainsi que sur d’autres qui le sont indirectement.

A healthy environment equates to good health […] In 2003, the WHO reported that 21% of human diseases were directly linked to the environment. Three main factors have been identified as causing nearly three-quarters of environment-related diseases or poor health. These are – water, sanitation and hygiene – domestic air pollution – physical injury. Action on these three factors would enable a significant reduction of diseases directly and indirectly related to the environment.

He also penned a protest letter addressed to the director of Senegalese Television (RTS-TV) after it broadcast an advert for an insecticide considered unsafe for humans.

Awareness of the environment's importance is certainly on the rise in Africa. But will this mean that countries sacrifice some of their bad habits for a cleaner, healthier future?  


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