2004 Annual Report
Science & Technology, Water and EnvironmentMessage from the Chair
People often raise a glass together in greeting during cocktail parties, probably with orange juice, some perhaps with wine. Water, tends to be spurned in such occasions, even though these delicious drinks could not be prepared without water neither wine, cognac, coffee nor tea. Yet we place little value on water. We act as if it costs nothing.
In 2002, South Africa hosted the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), a follow-up conference to the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The agenda of the conference was organized around five issues: Water and Sanitation; Energy; Health; Agriculture; and Biodiversity.
Today, in 2004, we are concerned with issues of science, technology, water and environment.
Why water? One would ask.
The simple answer is that water is undeniably vital to life. Without it, food production declines, human health fails, the natural environment suffers and economic development is limited. Yet not only is this life-giving source being rapidly depleted and increasingly polluted -- but far too many people lack access to it. Some experts even predict that the next wars will be fought over water because a major share of the continent's water resources are in a few large basins such as the Congo, Niger, Nile and Zambezi River systems.
It is difficult to talk about water without raising some environmental concerns. Africa is the world's second largest continent with a land area of nearly 30 million Km². The continent has a wealth of natural resources, including minerals, forests, wildlife and rich biological diversity. The continent also includes some of the driest deserts, largest tropical rain forests and highest equatorial mountains in the world.
Since the 1970s, the environment and key natural resources in most African countries have been increasingly threatened by escalating and unsustainable pressures from fast growing populations and cities as well as expanding agricultural and industrial activities.
The 47 countries comprising sub-Saharan Africa depend more on their natural resource base for economic and social needs than any other region in the world. Two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa's people live in rural areas and rely on agriculture and other natural resources for income. However, the environmental resource base is rapidly shrinking as a result of water pollution, deforestation, loss of soil fertility and a dramatic decline in biodiversity in the region.
In Africa, long-term poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth are being undermined by the increasing scarcity of freshwater, the over-exploitation of coastal ecosystems and fisheries, the loss of forest cover, the loss of biological diversity. Other consequences are loss of genetic species and long-term changes in the earth's climate.
On the one hand, as people learn more about water and environmental degradation, they could begin to demand that their governments address these issues more forcefully through legislation.
On the other hand public awareness and concern for water and the environment is becoming an increasingly important factor among decision-makers in Africa as they seek to expand the development of their economies.
The water sector requires significant attention as it has a close relationship to the environment and natural resource base of Africa. However, the institutional, economic, legal capacities, and most importantly, the governance of science and technology of most governments in the region remain ill equipped and under-funded in dealing with environmental problems.
While strategies have been drawn, policies formulated and constraints identified, at various forums on water, more effort needs to be put on management and co-ordination. International and inter-sectoral approaches that recognize inter-linkages between nations, and between such sectors as land and water, agriculture and water, technology and water, health and water, gender and water need to be consolidated.
No single mechanism or fragmented approach will be enough. Policy packages using a mutually reinforcing matrix of institutional and policy reform and legal and economic management instruments are required.
ATPS, through its new programme on water and environment intends to bridge the knowledge and technological gap between Africa and the rest of the world by "closing the loop through generation of new knowledge, outreach, knowledge brokerage, dissemination and advocacy in key thematic areas". We want to discuss how new knowledge can improve the situation in Africa.
We at ATPS have the capacity, and increasingly, the will to make a positive contribution to policies related to water and environment.
Prof Norah Olembo
Chair, ATPS Board