Past, present and future perspectives


Africa needs external support if it is to succeed in reversing the current trend in environmental degradation. As discussed in earlier chapters, the extreme poverty suffered by many Africans is a major factor contributing to the degradation of Africa's environment. For example, the fact that in Sierra Leone the poorest 20 per cent of the population benefits from only 1.1 per cent of income consumption indicates that the majority of its people are deriving livelihoods from subsistence activities largely based on environmental goods and services. Should this trend persist, environmental degradation will continue unabated, and at tremendous cost to the country. Uganda is another example-a conservative estimate puts the annual cost of environmental degradation at 4-12 per cent of the country's GNP (NEMA 2001, Slade and Weitz 1991). If corrective actions are not financed and put in place, the cost of this degradation is likely to increase.

It was agreed at the UNCED (1992), where most African states were represented, that implementing Agenda 21 would require new and additional financial resources. African countries have received external assistance for environmental management, but the resources received have been inadequate, partly because the new and incremental funds being made available to them are less than those agreed at UNCED, and partly because procedural difficulties are hindering access by many African countries to the little funding that is available.

External aid nevertheless represents a significant share of national budgets in Africa-especially in sub- Saharan Africa-and dependence on aid is even more pronounced when it comes to investment in environmental management. Dependence on external aid raises concerns in Africa as to adequacy of funds, sustainability of interventions, and freedom to reflect national priorities rather than priorities perceived by donors. However, in spite of such concerns, incremental funding will still be required if African countries are to continue with implementation of Agenda 21. Moreover, access to funding will have to be easier than at present, and it must be largely in the form of grants rather than loans, however soft.

While it is clear that Africa needs external support in its efforts to reverse environmental degradation, African governments also need to recognize that environment is a priority area for investment. They could, for example, include environment as a priority area for intervention in national poverty reduction strategies.

Furthermore, African states often put too much emphasis on accessing external sources of funds, almost to the exclusion of domestic resources. They should-if they are to become more self-reliant-be more proactive in identifying and developing creative mechanisms to generate funds from the region's significant environmental resources. They could improve the generation of non-tax revenues from environmental resources and services by moving towards charging economic rates for them. Valuation of their environmental resources on the basis of total economic value would allow African governments to introduce more appropriate taxes and to develop nontax sources of revenue, such as user fees. The rationale for, and the benefits of, investing in environmental management are presented in Box 5.4.

Box 5.4 Rationale for and benefits of investing in environmental management


  • Halting or reversing of environmental degradation so as to guarantee improved productivity of the environment, with a view to accelerating sustainable economic growth and improving human welfare.
  • Building and strengthening of human institutions and capital in environmental management, to allow continual response to new demands and challenges.
  • Holding open future options for resource conservation and development, by formulating good policies so that irreversible losses are avoided, and positive conservation culture and attitudes are inculcated.

Expected benefits

  • Increased earnings at macro and micro levels, due to improved productivity of biotic elements.
  • Avoiding losses of future income (for example, by controlling the impact of soil erosion on agricultural productivity).
  • Avoiding future costs (for example, replacing lost soil nutrients, extensive curative medical care, etc.).
  • A healthy and productive labour force.
Source: adapted from NEMA (2001

The collective will of African states to arrest and to reverse environmental degradation exists, as evidenced by the wide range of responses presented in Annex 1. African states, and regional and sub-regional organizations, also want to do more, as illustrated by recent resolutions (AMCEN 2001). The main limitations are financial-mobilization of additional resources is, therefore, a priority.


African countries are generally poor and heavily indebted, although the level of indebtedness is declining (see Figure 5.3). Nonetheless, however small the debts may be in absolute amounts, when indexed to debt servicing abilities, they are still a constraint. Despite these odds, African countries have been able to leverage additional funds from external sources for investments in environmental management and, by and large, they have enjoyed goodwill from development partners. Key sources of external financial inflows include loans from the multilateral and regional development banks, and grants from bilateral donors and other agencies.

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Figure 5.3: Level of indebtedness to African countries

Source: UNDP human Development Report 2001