Past, present and future perspectives


Human mismanagement of environmental resources and processes significantly exacerbates the impacts resulting from disasters, and their effects on natural resources. Box 3.7 highlights some recent environmental disasters in Africa.

Box 3.7 Vulnerability to natural disasters

Extreme droughts have resulted in exceptional food emergencies in Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda (FAO 2001).

People in Africa are also vulnerable to floods, such as those which submerged more than 79 000 ha of planted land, severely affecting the livelihoods of nearly 120 000 farm families in central Mozambique in February and March 2001 (FAO/TCOR 2001). Farmers lost their crops, livestock, food and seed reserves, and hand tools. Simultaneously, the cyclone Dera hit the provinces of Nampula and Tete in March 2001, devastating about 2 000 families which depend on fisheries. The floods and cyclone also caused severe damage to infrastructure. As a result of the damage and loss of livelihoods due to these extreme events, the Food and Agriculture Organization( FAO) launched an appeal for US$8.71 million in assistance for Mozambique.

In North Africa (Egypt and Algeria), 22 earthquakes killed 14 405 people, and affected another 106 150 people, between 1980 and 1998 (EM-DAT undated). In mid-January 2002, lava flowing from the erupting Mount Nyiragongo destroyed half of the city of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, together with crops and biodiversity.More than 400 000 people fled to take refuge in neighbouring villages and in Rwanda.

It has been estimated that, in the moist forests of Central Africa alone, as much as 1 million t of wildlife (primarily forest antelope, wild pigs and primates) may be killed for food each year.

East Africa is exposed to seismic hazards due to the presence of the Rift Valley system. Earthquakes have been identified as a major threat in the area, which covers about 5.5 million km2 and holds more than 120 million people (Midzi and others, 1999). The vulnerability of East African populations to seismic events has been underscored by a recent study which advises that the region's capacity in earthquake preparedness and hazard mitigation needs to be improved 'significantly' (Midzi and others 1999).

In Central Africa, Mount Cameroon has erupted twice in the past 40 years, pouring out tonnes of lava and destroying farms and biodiversity. The last eruption was in the year 2000, and earth tremors occur every three to four years on average. Explosive emissions of toxic gases from Lake Nyos and Lake Mounoun, both crater lakes in the mountainous west of Cameroon, killed thousands of people, livestock and wildlife in 1986. Box 3.8 gives examples of disasters which have struck Nigeria in the recent past.


Box 3.8 Disasters in Nigeria

Four main categories of disaster have occurred in Nigeria over the past three years, and they have had significant environmental consequences.

Industrial accidents

  • On 10 July 2000, a pipeline in Nigeria exploded, killing about 250 villagers. Fires burned out of control about 20 km from the town of Jesse.
  • On 27 January 2002, at least 600 people were drowned and thousands were rendered homeless after multiple bomb explosions at a Nigerian military armoury, triggered by an accidental fire.Mass panic ensued.

Civil strife and conflicts (some related to community land resource ownership)

  • On 4 June 1999, ethnic clashes flared up in Nigeria's southern oil industry hub of Warri. Dozens of people were reported dead in six days of fighting.
  • On 19 July 1999, at least 60 people died in clashes between Hausa and Yoruba tribes near Lagos.
  • On 26 July 1999, troops were sent to Kano after at least 60 people were killed in renewed ethnic clashes in northern Nigeria.

Property rights and unequal sharing of benefits from natural resources

  • On 1 January 1999, at least 19 people died in clashes in Nigeria's oil region after an ultimatum to oil firms to leave ethnic Ijaw areas.
  • On 3 June 1999, local youths set fires at four separate points on the Warri-Kaduna products pipeline near the village of Adeje, after police arrested suspected product thieves. The number of dead was undetermined.

Rural and urban poverty which lead people to take deadly risks to get money

  • On 18 October 1998, fire engulfed more than 2 000 villagers who were scrambling for petrol near a ruptured pipeline in Jesse, outside Warri. Nearly 1 000 people were killed.
  • 14 March 1999, at least 50 villagers who were scooping up gasoline from a broken products pipeline at Umuichieichi-Umungbede village in Abia state were burned to death after an explosion.

Although natural disasters cannot be prevented, sustainable utilization and management of the environment can increase coping capacities at community level. An effective management regime would include: economic policies which encourage smallholder agricultural production; the enforcement of relevant laws and regulations; incentive measures which encourage agricultural and biodiversity conservation at community level; and integrated and coordinated planning. The integration and implementation of sustainability strategies at community and national levels would enhance coping capacities by reducing dependency on aid. Sustainability strategies would develop and support an enabling environment for households and communities, and would improve forecasting abilities which could forestall the potential of environmental events to translate into environmental disasters.