Africa is endowed with enough land to undertake small- and large-scale activities to strengthen household security, national development, transboundary cooperation and regional integration to transform trade, and create new opportunities for sustainable development which is sensitive to the environment and social and economic issues. There are, however, many threats and challenges which continue to undermine such progress, limiting its potential. These include pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, climate variability and change, extreme weather events such as drought and floods, ineffective land-use planning, land degradation and desertification, invasive alien species (IAS), limited or weak governance systems, corruption and greed, armed conflict and the attendant overexploitation of natural resources, and limited foreign direct investment (FDI). Limited domestic investment and wasted opportunities and loss of revenue due to leakage in sectors such as tourism are also important factors.
Climate change and variability
Climate variability and change are major threats limiting opportunities for sustainable development. For example, crop yields in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are projected to fall by 20 percent due to global warming and climate change. It has been projected that as climate change pushes the world towards more extreme weather, more and more people would be exposed to recurrent disasters.
Droughts and floods are common problems impacting on different parts of the region with devastating results on people and the environment. Millions of people face famine with relentless regularity, increasing their vulnerability to disease and other hardships. For example, at the beginning of 2003, about 25 million people faced famine, and by April 2003, this figure had jumped to 40 million. In Southern Africa, for example, much of the famine in 2003 was attributed to the severe drought of 2002-2003. In the Horn of Africa (Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia), famine is mainly a result of drought, although in Ethiopia and Eritrea, war was also a contributory factor. A total of 13.6 million people in the two countries faced immediate food shortages in early 2003. In Mozambique, the floods in 2000 – the worst in 150 years – left the country’s lowlands in the Limpopo River basin inundated for up to three months, affecting the plant resources upon which people relied.
Global warming is also a threat to mountain glaciers, many of which are melting at unprecedented rates. For example, an ice cap on Mount Kenya has shrunk by 40 percent since 1963.
- Harsch, E., 2003a. Africa beyond famine: New strategies needed to combat hunger, disease and rural poverty. Africa Recovery. 17 (1).
- Harsch, E., 2003b. Famine spreads across Africa. Africa Recovery. 16 (4).
- UN, 2003. Assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa: Report of the Secretary-General. A/58/353. United Nations, New York.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
Previous: Land degradation and desertification in Africa | Table of Contents | Next: Pests and invasive species in Africa
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.