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Creation of an Observatory for Environment and Sustainable Development for Africa


In close co-operation with the Directorates General for External Relations, Development and the EuropAid and Co-operation Office, the European Commission’s Directorate General, Joint Research Centre (DG JRC) is contributing to European Union initiatives in Africa by developing a dedicated Environmental Information System based on satellite and computermapping technologies.

This provides information on food needs, helps the European Commission Humanitarian Office provide aid in the aftermath of natural disasters and other emergencies, and helps long-term development through sustainable management of natural resources.

Africa continues to face some of the world’s greatest development challenges. More than 200 million people are undernourished, thousands of displaced persons are housed in refugee camps and the quality of essential resources such as water, cropland and forests is under threat. As the world’s largest donor of development aid, the European Union is a leader in the fight to eradicate poverty and improve social development. Over the last decade research at DG JRC has used satellite imagery, maps, statistics and computer models to address diverse environmental monitoring issues. This work has seen strong links established with UN Agencies, with counterparts throughout the developing world, as well as space agencies and other data providers. DG JRC is using this experience to create an Environmental Information System for Africa. The System brings together established DG JRC projects to help the Directorates General charged with policy development and implementation in the identification of priorities for EU intervention, and in the strategic orientation of European aid to Africa and other developing countries.

A loss in natural resources is a direct loss in income.

Income in many regions of Africa relies on natural resources - And armed-conflicts are increasingly driven by resource availability. Careful resource management will ensure economic value for present and future generations and help avoid conflict. DG JRC gathers and processes information on forests, biodiversity, land-use, land degradation and water to produce environmental information such as land-resource maps for the whole of Africa, location and timing of water resource replenishment and exhaustion, and the detection of forest logging activities. Geographic Information Systems exploiting this information have been installed in EU Delegations and already help in the better management of some of West and Central Africa’s national parks.

Saving lives and providing emergency relief.

Africa has a high proportion of the world’s refugees. The European Commission Humanitarian Office provides aid to the dispossessed, helping to save lives and to provide emergency relief to people affected. A significant part of this aid sustains people hosted in refugee camps. Insecurity in the host country or delays in repatriation mean refugees may have to live in camps for years - Lukole camp in Tanzania set up in 1994 to host Rwandese refugees still operates more than a decade later. DG JRC uses satellite imagery to count family dwellings in the camps and estimate the number of refugees. This information is then provided to the Directorates General involved in the disbursement and control of aid and assistance, thus helping to ensure that aid goes where, and when, it is most needed.

Providing early estimates of crop yields and warning of crop failure.

DG JRC’s crop monitoring and forecasting system assesses agricultural productivity in over 30 countries vulnerable to crises and food shortages; the Horn of Africa is particularly important because of recurrent food crisis and the absence of a regional monitoring system. Monthly reports describing current crop condition, yield prospects and the likelihood of food shortages are issued from April to October. During this period, continuous exchange takes place with the EU offices in Africa, African institutions and UN partners. In 2004 the focus was on North-Sudan’s Darfur region, and the regions of Mauritania and Mali suffering from desert locust plagues.

Local change has global consequences, global change local consequences.

Africa has 17% of the world’s forest, at least 20% of its grassland and 11% of the wetlands. Changes to these (and they do change: for example much of the grassland burns each year) affect Africa and the global environment, especially our climate. The rural peoples of Africa are some of the most vulnerable to climate change; they have little adaptive capacity and are among the worst affected by droughts, floods and storms; their agriculture, forestry and livestock too are all sensitive to climate. The environmental measurements made by DG JRC help determine Africa’s role in the global climate system, and highlight how climate change will affect the ecosystem services the poorest rely upon.

A long-term programme

The European Commission and European Space Agency have launched an initiative to establish, by 2008, a European capacity for global monitoring for environment and security (GMES) to support the Union’s political goals regarding sustainable development and global governance. GMES will facilitate and foster the operational provision of quality data, information and knowledge, and DG JRC will help extend the application of the GMES initiative to Africa.

Aidan Gilligan | alfa
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