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DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: Why The Richest Continent Is Also The Poorest

Miriam Mannak

ACCRA, Sep 5 2008 (IPS) - The ecological impact of natural resource exploitation on the lives of the poor in Africa and other regions is not being addressed sufficiently in aid effectiveness and development discussions, aid experts say.

"Africa is known as one of the richest parts of the world when it comes to natural resources, yet it is also the poorest region – despite the natural wealth and the aid flow," said Charles Mutasa, executive director of the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD) – a Zimbabwe-based NGO working on Africa's debt problem.

Mutasa was participating in a discussion at the Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF3), which took place in the Ghanaian capital of Accra from September 2-4.

"The ecological debt caused by natural resource exploitation plays a crucial role in this scenario," Mutasa added. "It keeps the continent down, prevents the region from breaking out of the circle of poverty, and triggers the need for more aid."

The term ecological debt refers to the debt accumulated by rich countries toward developing nations on account of resource exploitation, which often leads to environmental problems such as air and water pollution.

"Very few parties that are part of the development debate see the necessity of addressing ecological debt and its impact on people's lives," says Brenda Mofya, debt cancellation activist and the writer of a recent study on the ecological impact of copper mining in Zambia. The report will be launched at the end of September 2008.

Zambia is the world's seventh biggest producer of the metal. In 2007 the country generated 521,984 tonnes of copper; this year the government expects production to increase to 600,000 tonnes.

However, Mofya said, the Zambian government and people are not seeing much from the wealth generated as most of the copper mines are in hands of the private sector – including many foreign companies.

"The Zambian government receives only 0.06 percent of the annual profit. Meanwhile the mining companies are getting richer, and ecological problems keep accumulating. These things have a profound impact on people's lives," she said.

She told IPS about the poor air quality in the copper belt, which does not meet international standards.

"Fugitive mine dust and dumped waste are causing health and environmental problems. We found that of the 45 waste dumps, 32 are overfull. This waste and fugitive dust have a negative impact on water quality too."

According to Mutasa, rich countries involved in resource exploitation in Africa need to come to the table and repay the debt that has accumulated in Africa. "If we want Africa to develop, we need to have a critical and serious look at this issue."

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