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Modest African footprint still approaching limits


Individual Africans might consume less on average than residents of any other continent, but rising population is bringing Africa close to its ecological limits, the first ever detailed assessment of Africa’s ecological footprint has found.

Africa-Ecological Footprint and human well-being, prepared for WWF by the Global Footprint Network and released at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment today finds the average African had an Ecological Footprint (an estimate of the area of land or sea used annually in providing for personal consumption) of 1.1 global hectares in 2003, well below the global average of 2.2 hectares per person.

“Our research shows that the average African has a low environmental impact by western standards,” said Chief Emeka Anyaoku, President of WWF International. “But a growing number of African countries are now depleting their natural resources - or will shortly be doing so – faster than they can be replaced.”

Egypt, Libya and Algeria head the list of African countries living well beyond their ecological means, with the ecological footprints of Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe also exceeding national bio-capacity.

Globally, world consumption exceeded biocapacity by 25 per cent in 2003. Current business-as-usual projections show that humanity will require the resources and waste absorption capacity of two planets by 2050.

“In contrast, Africa’s biocapacity is 1.3 global hectares per person, slightly more than Africans use, but 28 per cent less than the world-average of 1.8 global hectares available per person,” the report says. Clear dangers loom from a projected more than doubling of Africa’s population by 2050, taking it from about one eighth to nearly a quarter of the total world population.

The report also shows that African countries predominate in the lower end of the most widely used human welfare measure, the Human Development Index, while in much of the continent stress on water resources is increasing.

"There is a strong international commitment to improving human well-being in Africa and advancing the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, hunger and disease,” said Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director of the Global Footprint Network. “But for lasting success, we need to work with, rather than against, ecological budget constraints.

“Development that ignores the limits of our natural resources ultimately end up imposing disproportionate costs on the most vulnerable and the most dependent on the health of natural systems such as the rural poor.”

The report also notes some encouraging trends, from signs of recovery in wild animal populations in East Africa to an increasing policy emphasis on the state of the environment as a key development issue. In Tanzania, for instance, the environment has been recognised as vital to the national Poverty Reduction Strategy.

“There is no doubt that Africa faces major ecological challenges, but there are positive signs that environmental impacts can be reversed,” said Chief Anyaoku. “Africa’s Ecological Footprint is getting bigger – but it is not just Africa’s problem. It is up to us all to help reverse the trend.”


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