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Africa is at a critical juncture; as the continent grows, it has the potential to dramatically change its own ecological character. This is according to a report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released on Tuesday May 26.
The African Futures Report states that as expanding economic activity comes together with sensitive ecosystems, we are likely to witness the emergence of several ecological limits, areas where the ecological foundation of Africa’s growth could be chipped away or destroyed altogether by this development.
“Africa has a huge and diverse natural resource base as well as a rich ecosystem suited for economic development. Africa’s economic growth is already a defining global story and likely to remain so for the rest of the 21st Century. As the continent embraces improved prospects of growth in the coming decades, we need to interrogate the extent to which Africa’s growth is contributing to improvements in livelihoods and reduction in poverty, as well as its overall sustainability,” said Donald Kaberuka, the Out-going AfDB President.
The report further states that there are several forces that are currently driving large scale changes on the continent’s ecosystem. Among those is population growth which is expected to double by 2050 and by the close of this century half of all young people on the planet under the age of 18 will live in Africa. This will have a huge strain on the ecology according to the report.
The other driving force mentioned is urbanization with Africa currently having the highest rate of urban population growth in the world. The continuous rise of investment in the continent but the varying conditions on sustainability and ecosystem that come with it has also been mentioned as another driving force.
The report underlines that, one of the single most vital factors shaping Africa’s future is its relative lack of infrastructure, and thus its substantial potential for infrastructure growth. African countries putting in place infrastructure domestically and regionally must, however, do so wisely because the infrastructure built need to be extremely sensitive to the ecosystem.
Underlying resource endowment of a country also influences development path and in turn ecological futures. For example, nations with significant mineral resources tend to adopt an extractive approach; nations with large amounts of arable land tend to become agrarian economies; and nations with rich ecosystem resources turn towards conservation and tourism.
“Regardless of resource endowment and focus, most resilient economies require a strong combination of institutional flexibility, socio-economic empowerment, infrastructural robustness and ecological robustness. Ecological robustness is in many ways contingent on a country, region, or economy’s natural resource base and how it is managed for current and future development,” the report reads.
As a recommendation, the report states that the government has a role in establishing the legislative and regulatory framework in which other actors operate and ensure an appropriate enabling environment for investment. Governments should ensure that institutions are empowered and have the incentive and capacity to oversee natural resource management.
The Government can also play a direct role in helping to fund and support the generation and dissemination of ecological information to support effective planning.
Africa is attracting a large number of Foreign Direct Investment and companies and corporations should recognize their role as stewards of natural resources and take steps to minimize the impact of both their direct operations and broader ecological footprint, the report also suggests.