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The Urgent Need for Action: Environmental Issues Facing Africa


High unemployment rate. Insecurity. High maternal and infant mortality. Underdevelopment. Poverty. Hunger. The list is endless. Myriad of problems facing Africa and its inhabitants. It is no surprise that awareness around climate change and environmental protection is low compared to other continents.

The Urgent Need for Action- Environmental Issues Facing Africa

I had a discussion about this issue with a group I was in and the response I got caused me a great deal of worry. When asked why we as Africans, are so nonchalant towards climate change and environmental protection, the reply I got was that we are faced with too many challenges to have enough energy to bother about something as “grandeur” as climate change.

Overreaction or Under-reaction?

You can laugh at their “ignorance” but that is a reality many here have to live with. Erratic power supply. Unemployment. Insecurity. Amongst others. There is little or no room to discuss climate change.

That is my grouse with many African leaders. We attend these climate change fora across the world bothering about issues that are of no significant importance to the ordinary African yet the continent continues to grapple with problems the Western countries solved many years ago.

Instead of dealing with low-hanging fruits such as the problems I have enumerated, we concern ourselves with problems like carbon emissions.  

There’s one statistic I’ll share with you. Reports from 2021 have it that a total of 37.12 billion tones of CO2 were emitted across the world. Oxfam went ahead to disclose that the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population is responsible for more than half of that emission.

Now, it will interest you to know that Africa’s carbon emissions dwarf in comparison to those of the other continents. According to the figures  I have, China’s stood at around 11.7 billion tonnes, the United States comes second with 5 billion tonnes, and then India, Russia, and Japan with 2.7 billion tonnes, 1.75 billion tonnes, and 1.07 billion tonnes of carbon emission respectively.

Let me point you in another direction. Africa accounts for a meager 4 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions and the figure stands at around 1.45 billion tonnes. On a per capita basis, Africa has the least carbon emissions among all the continents of the world with an average of one tonne of CO2 per individual.

So the question is: Shouldn’t Africans be nonchalant about issues such as this?

You can see from these figures that those who advocate that Africans focus on more pressing issues have a point. However, we as a continent must pay close attention to global trends, or else, we risk being left behind just as those in the Christian Bible were left behind when Noah’s Ark sailed.

The environment is an important component of our existence as humans. Now and then, we read the news, and stories such as flooding, tsunamis, desertification, erosion, etc stare us in the face. Gradually, these non-issues are becoming a huge global problem and Africa must pay attention because their effects are biting hard. 

Why Africa Should Pay Attention To Its Environment

As surprising as this may sound, we can draw a straight line from some of the problems we face on the continent to the environment. We will take them on a case-by-case basis.

First, desertification. When you consider the Sahel region of the continent, you would notice as well as I have done the steady rise in the rate of desertification. It is estimated that around 10 percent growth rate in the Sahara desert can be attributed to the increase in desertification around the Sahel.

Around 8 months in a year, the weather is usually dry in the Sahel. However, the population growth over the years has resulted in what is called illegal farming. This has snowballed into major soil erosion and desertification.

The once-fertile region has been transformed into an unproductive and arid region. Thereby causing farmers to abandon their livelihood and be forced to seek alternatives. This decision has had serious consequences, especially in countries like Nigeria.

Some of the insecurities noted particularly in the Northern part of the country can be traced to this. Some of those in that region of the country are herders who are always looking to settle their animals in places with abundant grasses.

Now, desertification has caused these herders to bring their animals down South of the country and into farmlands belonging to other farmers. These situations result in altercations between the two parties leading most times, to the loss of lives. 

Statistics have it that more than 2,000 people lost their lives to clashes between farmers and herders in 2021. The figure, I believe, would be double that as things stand.

so if environmental issues weren’t important in the past, they are now because we can see a direct link between some of the insecurity some countries in the Sahel region have to deal with and the search for greenery caused by desertification.

Second, Deforestation. Industrialization and population growth make it necessary for more forests to be cleared. Throughout Africa, several reasons have been given for cutting down trees. One of which is to accommodate the growing number of population across the continent.

However, we are paying the price for this action. The communities residing in the areas where deforestation has taken place get exposed to erosion.

Not only that. When forest cover is removed, the rainy season becomes a dreaded season because of rising water levels. In 2022, countries in the West and Central African region experienced one of the most devastating floods in history. Over 1,500 people lost their lives, over 4,000 people were injured and over 3 million people lost their shelter. The flooding destroyed over 1.6 million hectares of land, particularly in the DR Congo, Chad, and Nigeria.

Third, Oil spillage. It is estimated that around 240,000 barrels of crude oil make their way into the sea, land, and atmosphere in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria annually. This oil spillage harms not just humans but the environment in several ways.

A study connected environmental pollution to infant and child mortality in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. That study disclosed that the oil spills occurred within a 10-kilometer radius of the mother’s residence.

Fourth, air pollution. Countries in Africa are among those experiencing some of the highest levels of air pollution globally.

Africa is said to house five of the ten most heavily polluted countries in the world. It is not a surprise because many communities around the continent rely heavily on fossil fuels for their energy.

Migration to cleaner sources of energy like solar is just beginning to take root and considering its cost, especially in a poor continent like this, many Africans will rely on coal, wood, petrol, etc for energy.

a UNICEF report disclosed that deaths attributed to outdoor air pollution have increased in Africa by 60 percent.

We must commend countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Namibia, etc who are embracing cleaner and safer sources of energy like solar. To ensure more African countries get on the train, we must find a way to make it affordable.

We can go on and on about the environmental challenges Africa is facing. However, my major objective in highlighting these is to stress that Africa is not alien to environmental challenges and if we continue to play ignorant, their negative effects will continue to mount and sweep each one of us away.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We have talked a lot about the challenges. There certainly are certain measures we can put up to ensure that Africa isn’t left behind and that our environment is given the adequate attention it deserves.

The first step for the governments across Africa to take is to raise the level of awareness. Citizens across the continent must have ample knowledge about what is to come.

Civil society involvement needs to be promoted to help with this campaign. If the awareness of the general public of the importance of environmental protection isn’t prioritized, any policy put forward by the government will be sabotaged.

Second, governments across Africa must hold industries and manufacturers accountable for certain agreements on environmental protection that they have willingly agreed to sign.

Policies such as proper disposal of waste, recycling of materials, anti-air pollution campaigns, etc must be adhered to.

Third, environmental policy objectives must be integrated throughout the continent. This policy should include activities geared toward social and economic development. Member countries of the African Union (AU) should be encouraged to key into this initiative.

As a form of suggestion, the African Union should institutionalize climate change as a security issue and come up with a policy centered around climate security. They also need to develop a general framework for climate change.

Finally, while we push our governments and other elected officials to solve insecurity problems, rising inflation, high unemployment rates, infant and child mortality, increasing number of out-of-school children, etc, we must pay attention to our environment.

Regions that were not prone to floods are now experiencing high levels of floods. Regions that were known for their lush, green pastures are now becoming deserts. Certain animals are now going extinct. All these are pointers that something isn’t right.

The onus therefore is on us to take care of our environment for therein lie our furtherance and sustainability as humans. 

Odeh Jude
Odeh Jude
I Write article and blog posts in niches including health, gardening and environment.

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