Past, present and future perspectives


The major environmental disasters in Africa are recurrent droughts and floods. Their socio-economic and ecological impacts are devastating to African countries, because most of the countries do not have real-time forecasting technology, or resources for post-disaster rehabilitation. The impacts of disasters include: massive displacement of people, as happened in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s; increased erosion and sedimentation of reservoirs; degradation of coastal zones; and general changes in habitats. These impacts negatively affect both people and wildlife.

In addition to drought and floods, tropical cyclones cause havoc, especially in the West Indian Ocean Islands. Islands states, such as Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Reunion and others, and coastal states, such as Mozambique, are also vulnerable.

Poor land management practices, which lead to land degradation and deforestation, contribute to increased flood disasters in some risk areas. The effects of droughts and floods are exacerbated by ineffective policies. For instance, where governments are aware that a large percentage of their people rely heavily on wood for energy, and yet do not provide adequate energy resources, people are forced to cut trees for charcoal, which is sold primarily in urban areas. This contributes to deforestation in Africa. Unless alternative energy sources are made available, the deforestation trend is likely to continue, exposing more and more people to risk from disasters related to environmental change. Human vulnerability to environmental change is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3 of this report.

Major developments which took place in the 1980s, and which have influenced policies in Africa, are listed in Table 1.3.

Table 1.3 Major events which shaped policies in Africa in the 1980s


  • Zimbabwe attains independence from Britain
  • The Organization of African Unity (OAU) adopts the Lagos Plan of Action
  • Nine southern African countries - Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland,
    Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe - establish a political and economic bloc called the Southern Africa
    Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), now the Southern African Development Community (SADC)
  • The World Conservation Strategy is published by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), introducing
    the concept of sustainable development, and becomes a blueprint for national conservation
    strategies (NCS)
  • The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat is amended in Paris, France
  • The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is adopted
  • The United Nations establishes the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)
  • The Protocol relating to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
    enters into force
  • The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals enters into force
  • The International Tropical Timber Agreement is adopted in Geneva, Switzerland in November.
  • This agreement was later succeeded by the International Tropical Timber Agreement (1994)
  • The first incidence of HIV/AIDS is recorded in Africa
  • The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer is adopted in Vienna, Austria
  • The Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal
    Environment of the Eastern African Region is adopted in Nairobi, Kenya
  • The Protocol Concerning Protected Areas and Wild Fauna and Flora in the Eastern African Region is
    adopted in Nairobi, Kenya
  • The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat enters into force
  • The Brundtland Commission publishes Our Common Future,which advocates sustainable
  • The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is adopted in Montreal, Canada
  • The Agreement on the Action Plan for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Common
    Zambezi River System is adopted in Harare, Zimbabwe, and enters into force
  • The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer enters into force
  • Parties to CITES ban international trade in ivory and other elephant products. Some Southern African
    countries put up a strong opposition
  • The Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer enters into force, in January
  • The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their
    Disposal is adopted in Basle, Switzerland
Sources: SADC/IUCN/SARDC (1998) and UNEP/Sida (undated)