Economic Worth of Africa's Natural Wonders Untapped

Cape Times (South Africa), August 28, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Economic Worth of Africa's Natural Wonders Untapped


BYLINE: Achim Steiner

As environment ministers from across Africa meet in Cape Town for the Third Assembly of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) this week, I would urge them to put the goods and services of forests, coral reefs, river systems and rangelands high on the priority list.

Report after report demonstrates that the sustainable management of natural resources is one of the keys to overcoming poverty.

Creatively and sustainably harvested and fairly shared, these resources can help in meeting internationally agreed development goals.

Africa, with its natural wealth or "nature capital" residing in its ecosystems - from forests to coral reefs - can be a leading player on this multi-billion dollar stage.

Africa's wealth of natural resources has always been an asset and has sustained its people. But their true value, the sheer scale of the wealth of Africa's freshwaters and landscapes to its minerals and marine resources, has been invisible in economic terms.

Only now are the real economic figures coming to the fore.

Take the wetlands of the Zambezi River Basin. According to estimates, outlined in the new Africa Environment Outlook-2 (AEO-2), the economic value in terms of crops and agriculture alone of these wetlands is close to $50 million a year. In terms of fisheries, it is nearly $80m a year, and in terms of maintenance of grasslands for livestock production, over $70m annually.

Wetland-dependent ecotourism is valued at over $800 000 annually, and natural products and medicines associated with wetlands on the Zambezi, worth over $2.5m a year.

And it is not just wetlands. Take biodiversity, for example, and take the gorillas of the Great Lakes Region. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report AEO-2 estimates that tourism linked with gorilla watching now brings in around $20m a year.

South Africa's coastal waters and wildlife are generating something like $30 billion a year in economic and tourist-based activities.

Many of Africa's ecosystems are not just serving the region, but the world.

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize-winning economist, estimates that the carbon sequestration or carbon soaking value of tropical forests, such as those in the Congo River Basin, probably equals or exceeds the current level of international aid being provided to developing countries. Thus, it is the developing world, and some of the poorest countries, that help the global community by freely removing large levels of the gases causing climate change.

Some developed countries are recognising that debt. They are repaying it in a way that balances the need to fight poverty with a need to sustainably manage these income-generating natural resources.

Only some days ago, France signed a debt-for-nature swap with Cameroon, under which $25m will be invested in people and in nature in the Congo River Basin.

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