Africa has some 40,000 kilometers (km) of coastline, extending over 32 countries. Coastal areas are the locus of rapid urban and industrial growth, including tourism, the development of oil and gas resources, and port development. The seas surrounding Africa are endowed with rich fisheries and varied coastal ecosystems, including wetlands, coral reefs and mangroves. Coastal areas host a wealth of historic sites and the western and northern parts of Africa are well endowed with oil and gas resources, some of which are offshore. The rich biodiversity, the historic heritage, and the fisheries and energy resources, coupled with an amenable climate, are key assets for the development of opportunities to improve the economic and social well-being of the population.
However, coastal and marine resources are under considerable threat from degradation. The main concerns are the loss of habitats and the modification of coastal ecosystems, leading to species loss. These adverse impacts are due primarily to the pressures of human activities, both land-based and marine. The pressures include: urbanization and industrialization resulting in pollution, eutrophication and loss of habitats; damming and agricultural irrigation leading to coastal erosion and saline intrusion; and the overexploitation of marine fisheries. There is also ongoing concern about the potential impacts of climate change and the anticipated sea-level rise, particularly with regard to coastal erosion and the inundation of coastal lowlands. Another concern is the introduction of invasive alien species (IAS) from ballast waters of marine vessels. Oil and gas development will lead to an increased problem of marine and coastal pollution from terminals, tankers and offshore wells.
A number of initiatives have been put in place, at different levels, to address the environmental issues and threats to the marine resources in the region. Many of these are based on the integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) programme. Cooperation through MEAs is an important aspect of sub-regional response to the challenges faced:
- Countries in Northern Africa are party to either the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution (the Barcelona Convention) or the Regional Convention for the Conservation of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Environment (the Jeddah Convention), or, in the case of Egypt, both.
- Eastern African countries are party to either the Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Eastern African Region (Nairobi Convention) or the Jeddah Convention.
- Countries in Western Africa are party to the Convention for Cooperation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central African Region (Abidjan Convention).
The Cape Town Declaration on an African Process for the Development and Protection of the Coastal and Marine Environment, adopted in 1998, committed Africa’s leaders to promoting cooperation and supporting the implementation of the existing global and regional agreements. The African Process identified coastal erosion, pollution, sustainable use of living resources and management of key habitats, ecosystems and tourism to promote sustainable economic development as important areas for future action.
The New Partnership for Africa's Development-Environment Action Plan (NEPAD-EAP) programme area on coastal and marine resources builds on these MEAs and identifies six priority focuses: pollution, physical changes to the coastal and marine environment, biodiversity, integrated management approaches, environmentally sustainable economic development, and climate change.
Coastal and marine areas will continue to be hubs for industrial and commercial activities in the region for the foreseeable future. The major focus will continue to be oil and gas production and processing, fisheries and tourism, all of which have a potential for supporting medium- to long-term development. These developments will continue to induce environmental changes which threaten ecosystem health, human wellbeing and future development potential. This creates various challenges for environmental management which, if not addressed in a pre-emptive manner, may undermine the potential of these resources.
Mass coastal tourism development, as is already happening in Egypt, Algeria, Kenya and South Africa will result in rapid urban sprawl, habitat and biodiversity loss from construction, solid waste and sewage discharge, and coral bleaching as a result of climate change and increased pollution loading. Tourism, especially where it displaces people who are dependent on coastal and marine resources, can lead to conflict and affect local livelihoods. The concentration of growing numbers of people along the coast will increase their exposure to extreme events. In the absence of effective coping and mitigation strategies, including early warning systems and disaster preparedness, it may also increase their vulnerability. Reducing the vulnerability of these populations will emerge as a key policy challenge. The tsunami which occurred in Indonesia on 26 December 2004, some 7,000 km away, was able to cause significant damage on the east African coast seven hours later. More than 200 people were reported killed in the town of Hafun, in Somalia. Several fishing boats and facilities were damaged on the Tanzanian and Kenyan coasts. The impact of such incidences is likely to increase with the increasing population on the coastline and in absence of any practical mitigation plans.
A growing fisheries sector will place new pressures on the environment, from overharvesting and by-catch problems. Additionally, the growing commercial (and often foreign) sector will place increasing pressures on artisanal fishers and in particular on coastal communities that depend on the nearshore fisheries resource for food. This becomes particularly serious in a context of growing population of coastal areas.
The problem of reduced freshwater discharge from rivers will become more significant as more rivers are dammed inland to provide water for irrigation and supply for the cities. This will impact adversely on wetlands, mangroves, and coastal flats and have direct costs for livelihoods utilizing these resources.
The multiplicity of MEA and regional and sub-regional initiatives demonstrate collective commitments and goodwill. However, the United Nations Environment Porgramme (UNEP) recommends that individual governments need to undertake the following specific actions:
- Introduce stringent measures to abate marine and coastal pollution, through incorporating the polluter pays principle into the legal framework and strengthening the institutional capacities for enforcement.
- Enhance public awareness on the issues of land-based pollution, such as waste discharge and soil erosion.
- Identify coastal areas which are sensitive and crucial for maintenance of ecosystem integrity and designate them for conservation or regulated development.
- Ensure better coordination at the national level in the granting of fishing access rights to industrial fleets, taking into account social and environmental considerations. There is an urgent need for more effective transboundary cooperation in managing fishstocks, including better monitoring, control and surveillance, and the enforcement of regulations. These actions are best complemented by international agreement on fisheries regulation, and this could be an important area for advocacy.
UNEP concludes that, although public participation is crucial in coastal and marine management, governments will continue playing a leading role, especially in monitoring and enforcement. Support from development and donor partners is important.
Result and target date
UNEP concludes that results in terms of restoration and recovery of ecosystems can be realized within three to five years, while some other processes such as coral reef regeneration may take as long as ten years.
- CARE, 2005. Tsunami damage hits hard in already vulnerable Somalia. CARE Press Release, 21 January.
- Chenje, M., 2003. Hydro-politics and the quest of the Zambezi River-Basin Organization. In International Waters in Southern Africa (ed. Nakayama, M.). UNU Series on Water Resources Management and Policy. United Nations University Press, Tokyo.
- IPCC, 2001. Technical Summary, Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, New York.
- NOAA, 2003. Guinea Current Large Marine Ecosystem, LME No.28. United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2. Nairobi, Kenya.
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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