‘Develop Africa differently’

Tomorrow, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will launch the first Africa Human Development Report.

Despite recent economic growth and plentiful natural resources, Zimbabwe and its sub-Saharan Africa nations remain the world’s most food insecure region.

This report comes just days ahead of the G8’s 2012 Summit at Camp David in Maryland, US to which some African leaders were invited to discuss food security on the continent.

The global launch of the report will take place in Nairobi with Kenya President Mwai Kibaki and UNDP administrator Helen Clark. UNDP director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, Tegegnework Gettu, will present the report’s findings.

Simultaneous launches of the report will also take place in Accra, Ghana, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Senegal, Johannesburg and Lusaka while the launch in Niamey, Niger, will be on 18 May.

The Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Food Secure Future explores the paradox of why hunger continues to be so prevalent on the African continent and argues that human development in sub-Saharan Africa can only be fully realised when there is food security for all. Noting that this issue goes beyond agriculture, the report explores the interlocking themes of agricultural productivity, nutrition, resilience and empowerment through the powerful prism of human development.

But in the face of climate change, is it time to re-examine the way we do development in Africa?
For years, many developing countries have believed it can be only one or the other — economic growth or reducing carbon emissions. Yet this UNDP report says it’s possible for African countries to do both. Because high human development usually means high emissions, there are ways to do things differently.

Everyone agrees that Africa, one of the least developed continents, needs more economic growth if it is to lift millions of its people out of the circle of poverty.

Africa must also do its part to address climate change, not only by adapting and preparing for extreme weather events, but also by reducing its carbon footprint, according to experts. The launch also comes ahead of the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, which aims to hammer out sustainable development goals across seven core themes — including food security, water and energy – for countries to adopt.

The biggest UN event this year will be the summit on environment and development and more than 127 heads of government have already signed up to speak at the conference.

Whether all political leaders will eventually turn up depends on whether they think it worthwhile.

Hopefully, they would. The world is facing multiple crises, including the worsening of environmental problems such as global warming, water scarcity and bio-diversity loss. There are social problems including the persistence of poverty, the widening of inequality and the loss of effectiveness of modern medicines as bacteria get immune to antibiotics.

Then of course there’s the global financial and economic crisis and its aftershocks. A period of great uncertainty lies ahead, with slowdown inevitable in both developed and developing countries.

These issues are all part of the business of sustainable development, which has three pillars (social, economic and environment) and the promise of financial and technology support to developing countries. At the end, the key issues to be addressed by the Rio+20 Summit have become clear. Each issue is still hotly contested, mainly along North-South lines.

First is the divisive issue of the “green economy”. Developing countries are uncomfortable with this concept, as it can mean different things to different people. Their fear is that this term, if accepted too generally at a summit level UN meeting, may pave the way for environmental issues to be used as the basis of trade protectionism or new conditionality for aid and loans.

Gettu says the world’s common future will be hugely affected by the choices that are made in Africa on a low-carbon growth path and the goal is clear — reduce poverty, increase prosperity, but leave a smaller carbon footprint.

African countries are much less locked into the old, carbon-intensive models of production and consumption used by the West, which took the approach of “grow first, clean later” — helping it achieve certain levels of development it enjoys today.

Greater knowledge and improved technology mean African countries need not take the same path as they try to boost manufacturing, produce more crops and generate energy to fuel industry and improve their citizens’ quality of life.

They can adopt “greener, more resilient, lower-emission options”. These will be more sustainable and provide employment and income opportunities for the poor.

But, there is a whole breadth of strategies African governments can start looking at — if they are not already — to make their development more sustainable and less carbon-intensive. They can encourage industry to adopt green technologies through regulations and fiscal incentives, without undermining their competitiveness.

They can also shift tax burdens towards fossil fuel use and waste generation and redirect subsidies away from polluting fuels.

Countries should also look at promoting greener agriculture, the report says. Carbon sequestration using crop waste is another example of greener farming. Globally, cities occupy only 2% of land yet contribute more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Given that half of the world’s 20 or so megacities are in Asia, building greener cities is imperative.
Authorities can promote climate-friendly energy use, more efficient transport, greener buildings and better waste management.

Already, Zimbabwe has started the process of crafting a national climate change response strategy to prepare the country against global warming effects.

Clearly, climate change is one of the biggest threats that mankind faces today, and all natural disasters that the country is facing to climate change can be attributed to it.

Think of the devastating floods, droughts and storms we have seen in Zimbabwe of late and the unusual cold spells in April this year all show signs of climate change. Yet the country’s preparedness and actions in response to extreme climate and weather events have been on an ad hoc basis. It is our hope that a National Climate Change Response Strategy will ensure Zimbabwe has a well-co-ordinated and integrated approach to climate change in light of rising poverty and under development levels in the country.

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