UNDP: Rio+20 summit is important for Africa

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In the run up to the Rio+20 conference that will be held in the next few days in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, officials of the United Nations system in Cameroon on Wednesday said that the meeting is very important for Africa, which has the second biggest forest in the world.

Cameroon, a country in the tropical belt of Africa, has large areas of forest. [File photo]

Cameroon, a country in the tropical belt of Africa, has large areas of forest. [File photo] 

"The African countries neighboring the Congo basin forest should bring up negotiations on the following dilemma: on one hand, there's the international community which demands that these states should not touch the forest, but on the other side are the states which want to use the forests to develop," the resident representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Martin Zeh-Nlo said at a press conference in Yaounde.

"What should we do, knowing that these states with their current resources, will not be able to fund all the aspects of their development regarding education, health and agriculture?" he posed.

According to the analysis, Africa is faced with a number of constraints for its development which, more than in any other continent, hamper its capacity to conserve its environment and more specifically the Congo Basin which is the second biggest forest on the planet after the Amazon in Latin America.

Each year, the UN officials said, the African continent loses about 4 million hectares of forests, which is two times more than the global average.

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) noted in a recent report that currently, half of the African ecological zones have been degraded or converted into farmlands and urban centers.

According to the same report, Africa currently has 2 million square kilometers of protected regions, but the coastal zones are still confronted by problems related to mining and oil drilling, uncontrolled fishing, poor management of the mangroves and development of the coastal regions.

"Trees from the forests are destroyed to construct houses or produce charcoal, hence reducing the habitations for various animal species," the UN officials said while at the same time noting that Africa is the second most dry continent after Australia.

Some 340 million Africans out of a population of about one billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. And out of the 1.4 billion people in the world who do not have access to energy, 40 percent live in sub-saharan Africa.

Even though 60 percent of the African population is involved in agriculture, two thirds of African farmers practice subsistence farming.

The regional director for the International Labor Organization (ILO), Dayina Mayenga, said that since the first Rio de Janeiro conference in 1992, the progress has been mitigated.

"In terms of responsibility, we cannot say that Africa is a big polluter. On the contrary, Africa has suffered due to pollution, with a high drop in agricultural production," Mayenga said.

Just like Zeh-Nlo, her UNDP colleague, the ILO director revisited the debate that divides the countries of the North and Africa on the preservation of natural resources in the context of economic development.

"Industrialization of the North in the 19th century was possible due to high consumption of energy, coal and later petroleum. Now, Africa should also be allowed to boost its economic growth by using its raw materials, and to achieve this, the continent should adopt an industrialization process that will be focused on local value addition processes," she noted.

Regarding the management of the Congo Basin, the UNDP representative noted that "a solution will not be found today because there's need for consultation between various countries since different states normally do not have the same interests, capacity levels and the same approaches."

In addition, he said, the debate has gone international and the world has agreed that the basin should not be interfered with and it should be left to continue reducing gas emissions on the planet.

For Rio+20 summit, the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC) which was created during the heads of state summit in March 1999, will be present in Rio de Janeiro to defend a common sub-regional position regarding the green economy.

Cameroon's resident coordinator for the UNAIDS Mamadou Lamine Sakho noted that "the entire humanity is in danger. The levels of warming experienced in Cameroon have been increasing year after year. Lake Chad has shrunk and the desert is approaching fast. This should make the big polluters to pay for their actions. This is the position that Africa has been pushing for from their partners in the North."

However, Sakho regretted that the biggest polluters do not want to compensate the poor nations. He urged the international community to engage in negotiations with a view of safeguarding the African interests.

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