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Africa's Vulnerability to Environment Crisis Spotlighted in 2006
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The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) launched a mission earlier this month to help Cote d'Ivoire finalize a strategic plan for dealing with toxic waste dumped in the country in August.

The waste shipped to this west African country from Europe has claimed more than 10 lives and forced over 100,000 people to seek medical assistance, as well as bringing about massive clean-up and health service costs to this country, which is already under great financial strain.

In 1989 the UNEP-initiated Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted to prevent hazardous wastes from being dumped in the developing world.

However, illegal and unethical handling of the hazardous wastes is continuing, with Africa, the poorest continent in the world, being an easy prey.

Caught in a stranglehold by economic hardship, many African nations have been lured by the potential financial gains of importing hazardous waste from the West.

A joint enforcement operation carried out in 17 European seaports examined 3,000 shipping documents and physically inspected 258 cargo holds. Of these, 140 were waste shipments, of which 68, or some 48 percent, turned out to be illegal.

An article entitled Unfair Trade: E-waste in Africa based on investigations by the Basel Action Network (BAN), whose work contributes to the Basel Convention process, estimated that volumes of e-waste equal to 100,000 computers or CPUs, or 44,000 TV sets, enter Africa each month through Lagos alone.

BAN coordinator Jim Puckett, who visited Nigeria as part of an investigation on e-waste, saw enormous piles of e-waste throughout the countryside, much of it routed through Lagos, Africa's largest port, according to the article in the respected journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

"We saw people using e-waste to fill in swamps," Puckett recalled. "Whenever the piles got too high, they would torch them.. . Residents complained about breathing the fumes, but the dumps were never cleaned up. We saw kids roaming barefoot over this material, not to mention chickens and goats (which wind up in the local diet)."

Climate change

Compared to toxic waste, global warming is threatening an even bigger area and population of Africa.

"Africa contributes only about 3 percent of the world's climate change emissions yet it is this Continent that is arguably the most vulnerable to climate change," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in an interview with Xinhua.

A report on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation in Africa, released by the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) last month and based on data from bodies including the UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) indicated that the continent's vulnerability to climate change is even more acute than that had previously been supposed.

Between 25 percent and over 40 percent of species' habitats in Africa could be lost by 2085.

Cereal crop yields will decline by up to 5 percent by the 2080s with subsistence crops -- like sorghum in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zambia; maize in Ghana, millet in Sudan and groundnuts in the Gambia -- also suffering climate-linked falls.

The impact of climate change on Africa has already been physically seen from the melting of glacier on the continent's two highest peaks, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.

Kilimanjaro has already lost 82 percent of its ice cover over the past 80 years and Mount Kenya has lost 92 percent of its ice cover in the past 100 years, said Fredrick Njau of the Kenyan Green Belt Movement.

The United Nations is concerned that the loss of the ice could contribute to water insecurity, a problem that some 480 million Africans may face by 2025 as the glaciers, which provide stunning views, are a vital water source.

When Africa is suffering from drought, floods, which often result in spread of epidemic, famine and even conflict, it receives far less attention and aid compared to other parts of the world, as shown in a latest report released by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

"Aid coverage remains inequitable: appeals for the Republic of Congo, Djibouti and the Central African Republic were on average less than 40 percent funded; yet the (Asian) tsunami appeal was 475 percent funded and the South Asia earthquake appeal was 196 percent funded," said the report.

Africa's vulnerability was given more attention this year when the 12th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC drew about 6,000 delegates, many from African countries, to Kenya's capital of Nairobi last month. It is the first time the annual conference is held in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Climate change is underway and the international community must respond by offering well targeted assistance to those countries in the front-line which are facing increasing impacts such as extreme droughts and floods and threats to infrastructure from phenomena like rising sea levels," Steiner said on the eve of the climate change conference.

"The conference has delivered on its promise to support the needs of developing countries," said Conference President, Kenyan Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment Kivutha Kibwana. "The positive spirit of the conference has prevailed."

At the meeting, activities for the next few years under the " Nairobi Work program on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation" were agreed. These activities will help enhance decision-making on adaptation action and improved assessment of vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.

(Xinhua News Agency December 21, 2006)



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