December 18th 2017

Society / Environment

UNEP raises red flag on environmental degradation

The proportion of the population served with clean water is increasing and grew from 64 per cent in 2005 to 68 per cent in 2012, although absolute numbers of people without safe drinking water remain high.

By Shadrack KaviluMonday, 23 May 2016 11:12 EAT

Governments across the globe have been challenged to act urgently to reverse the environmental damage. In what has been termed as the most authoritative study UNEP has revealed that changes taking place are a threat to food security and human sustainability worldwide.

In a report read by The Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, He said in their assessments, which are based on scientific data and peer reviewed literature, they find that there is still time to tackle many of the worst impacts of environmental change, such as the damage to marine ecosystems and the rising level of air pollution, which has become one of the world’s most widespread environmental health risk. In Africa, the report notes that land degradation, air pollution, and the provision of sanitation and safe drinking water are among the main problems on the continent.

The report reveals that many of the region’s fisheries, both inland and marine, face overexploitation from illegal, under-reported and unregulated fishing. The continent has an opportunity to use its large young population to drive  growth.

Low-carbon, climate-resilient choices can develop the continent’s infrastructure, accelerate industrialization, increase energy and food production, and promote sustainable natural resource governance.

The report points out that indoor air pollution is responsible for 600,000 premature deaths every year in Africa.  The continent’s reliance on the use of biomass for cooking, lighting and heating means that 90 per cent of the region’s population is exposed to this health threat.

The proportion of the population served with clean water is increasing and grew from 64 per cent in 2005 to 68 per cent in 2012, although absolute numbers of people without safe drinking water remain high.

The report further affirms that more than half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa still does not have  access to improved sanitation, compared to 90 per cent coverage in North Africa, with a vast difference between urban and rural areas.

It cited population growth, rapid urbanization, rising levels of consumption, desertification, land degradation and climate change as the main contributing factors that have over time left countries suffering from severe water scarcity.

 “These worrying trends are also making it increasingly hard for the world to feed itself, warns the report, which involved 1,203 scientists, hundreds of scientific institutions and more than 160 governments.

African megacities such as Cairo, Kinshasa and Lagos, and emerging megacities such as Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg and Luanda, face challenges from poor management of sanitation services due to inadequate and deteriorating infrastructure resulting from underinvestment.

Land-based activities causing pollution of freshwater bodies ultimately impact coastal and marine resources.

 “Today, thanks to this report, we now know more about the state of the world’s environment than ever before. With these assessments, UNEP has presented the world with the very latest evidence on the state of the world’s environment, providing them with the tools they need to anticipate and avoid the damage that is being done to our planet.It is further revealed that the six regional Assessment reports titled Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6) carried out in the Pan-European region, North America, Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa affirming that degradation is occurring at a faster pace than previously thought, making it imperative for respective governments to act swiftly.

Detailed examination of the environmental issues affecting each of the world’s six regions: Released ahead of the United Nations Environment Assembly, the regional assessments find that the world shares a host of common environmental threats that are rapidly intensifying in many parts of the world.

"If current trends continue and the world fails to enact solutions that improve current patterns of production and consumption, if we fail to use natural resources sustainably, then the state of the world’s environment will continue to decline. It is essential that we understand the pace of environmental change that is upon us and that we start to work with nature instead of against it to tackle the array of environmental threats that face us” he asserted

Across the world, climate change, the loss of biodiversity, land degradation and water scarcity are growing problems that need to be urgently addressed if the world is to achieve the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the reports state.

The future of the region’s economies, as well as the ability of countries to fight poverty and reverse inequality, depends heavily on harnessing the region’s natural capital sustainably while mitigating and adapting to climate change, and decoupling economic growth from resource consumption.

In Africa, which is the second largest continent in the world, land is the most prized asset for food production, nutritional health and economic development. Worryingly, about 500 000 square kilometers of land in Africa is being degraded due to soil erosion, salinization, pollution and deforestation. This land degradation can damage agricultural productivity, nutrition and human health. 

A growing population and a rise in the demand for firewood will mean that forest cover in Africa is likely to continue shrinking, declining to less than 600 million hectares by 2050. Overcultivation, inefficient irrigation practices, overgrazing, the overexploitation of resources, uncontrolled mining activities and climate change will further degrade land in Africa, the UNEP report states.

Shadrack is a business writer at the Kenya Free Press.

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