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DEVELOPMENT: Report Urges ACP Countries to Care for Environment

Stefania Bianchi

BRUSSELS, Jul 13 2003 (IPS) - African, Caribbean and Pacific countries must conserve their natural resources if they are to achieve poverty reduction, says a new report co-authored by members of the Nigerian and European Parliament.

The report, entitled ‘sustainable management and conservation of natural resources in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries in the framework of the programming of the 9th European Development Fund’, says that environment is the key to economic development.

Natural resources include forests, rivers, marine and coastal areas, which support diversified industrial and traditional agriculture. The majority of such natural resources are to be found in developing countries.

The report calls on the European Commission, the United Nations, the World Bank and other multilateral agencies to strengthen their commitments laid out in previous declarations such as the United Nations Agenda 21 and the conclusions of last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

Such measures include moves to integrate socio-economic and environmental issues into national and international law through regulatory framework and development policies.

The report was written by Gado Boureima, a member of the Nigerian parliament, and Joaquim Miranda, a member of the European Parliament. Miranda is also President of the European Parliament’s Development and Cooperation Committee.

Presenting the report on July 10 to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Social Affairs and the Environment, which aims to promote sustainable development, Boureima said that natural resources were a lifeline for developing ûparticularly the ACP – countries.

"The environment has to be at the heart of poverty reduction. Sustainable development is essential for developing countries and it is directly linked to international trade. In previous declarations sustainable development has been mentioned but we need to give it more prominence," he said.

Approximately 70 per cent of the Least Developed Countries (LDC), namely countries with low-incomes and weak human resources, depend on natural resources for food, clothes and medicines. Such resources are currently being destroyed by these countries as a result of lack of education on conservation issues.

Another major challenge faced by ACP countries is how to avoid over-dependence on natural resources, which can potentially lead to environmental degradation and eventually socio-economic growth reduction.

The report seeks to address this issue by proposing an increase in environmental awareness in ACP countries through education programmes funded by the European Development Fund (EDF).

ACP countries currently receive funding from the EU through the EDF, which was reformed in 2000 with the signing of the COTONOU Agreement, a pact giving members of the ACP group a special trade status with the EU.

The ninth and current EDF has been allocated 13.5 billion euros (some 15.8 billion dollars) over a period of five years to spend on developing countries. In addition, there are unexpended balances from previous EDFs that total 9.9 billion euros (11.6 billion dollars).

Issa Soumana, an ACP representative from Niger, told the Committee that education is the key to improving attitudes and policies.

"Natural resources are the heritage of mankind and we have to have education about what damage is being done them. We have to make populations concerned about environmental issues and make them realise the impact that they could have on their lifestyle," he said.

The committee raised concerns over the exploitation of natural resources in developing countries and proposed moves to manage the threats of sustainability. These included environmental governance, the establishment and management of protected areas and local community participation in natural resource management.

Chairing the meeting, Anders Wijkman, a member of the European Parliament, said that ACP countries need to take environmental issues and sustainable development seriously so that they can develop other areas of their economy.

"Taking sustainable development seriously means integrating it at the very centre of country development strategies, from the very outset, and not just completing an environmental impact assessment of every financed project. Not taking it seriously goes against the objectives and principles declared by the EU and ACP governments," he said.

Laurent Somé, director of the World Wildlife Fund for Central Africa, said that partnerships between concerned parties is essential for sustainability.

"Interaction between donors such as the EU, the private sector and the state, with civil society standing witness as the ultimate watchdog, can reduce threats to sustainability, control dependence and ultimately reduce or even eradicate poverty," he said.

Another threat to the sustainability of developing countries is conflict situations. These can have a negative impact on natural resources or can often be the cause of conflict.

The Committee stressed the need to promote this message in their work.

"We cannot ignore the problem of conflicts. So often conflicts are over a country’s natural resources. We have to try to get countries to share their natural resources with each other as this will benefit them all," said Soumana.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, urged the Committee to ensure that the measures laid out in the report were adopted as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Speaking on behalf of the Commission, Uwe Werblow from the Development Directorate General, said: "Implementation is the key to the success of this report. It’s not a matter of laying out plans of action; it’s a case of strategically addressing issues. We should focus on getting things done," he said.

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