Mohammed Valli Moosa describes how the launch of the African Union strengthens Africa’s contribution to the success of the World Summit

This year South Africa has had the honour of hosting two major international summits which together will help to bolster the emerging African Renaissance and lay the foundations for the future sustainable development of our continent. The Inaugural Summit of the African Union, held in Durban from 28 June to 10 July, launched a new and exciting phase in the history of African integration. The world now descends on Johannesburg, from 26 August to 4 September, for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). WSSD is expected to strengthen global action to promote poverty eradication and sustainable development, which will complement and support our own efforts to regenerate the economy of our continent. These two events offer us a unique opportunity to pave the way for a brighter future for Africa.

New departure
The launch of the African Union (AU) represents a new departure for our continent. In 1999 African leaders decided to establish the AU as the successor to the Organization of African Unity, to continue the task of building a strong and united Africa in an era of unprecedented global change and uncertainty. The launch of the AU signals in particular a recognition of the need for greater economic integration in order to avoid the further marginalization of African countries in the new global economy. The AU will provide a framework within which the necessary partnerships between governments, people, businesses and civil society can be strengthened in order to promote the economic and social development of our continent.

The African Union will be underpinned by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which will undoubtedly play a major role in helping to achieve the objectives of the AU. NEPAD will enable us to channel political will and resources into concrete action. This pledge by African leaders and governments, based on a common vision and commitment, to eradicate poverty and position their countries, individually and collectively, is clearly Africa’s own blueprint for sustainable development.

As a path of sustained growth and development NEPAD is a comprehensive response to the challenges that the world must face at WSSD. It is a basis on which we go to the Summit seeking constructive partnerships. At the same time it is also a basis for calling on the international community for support. As such, NEPAD articulates an African programme for sustainable development based on shared global responsibility.

Impact on poverty
It is with the strategic objectives of the AU and NEPAD in mind that we approach WSSD. The overall challenge for the Summit is poverty eradication. Johannesburg must deliver a concrete programme of action if it is to have real impact on the lives of the millions of people around the world who still live in poverty.
Johannesburg must deliver a concrete programme of action if it is to have real impact on the lives of the millions of people around the world who still live in poverty
In Africa, 340 million people, or half the population, live on less than $1 per day. The mortality rate of children under five years of age is 140 per 1,000, and life expectancy at birth is only 54 years. Only 58 per cent of the population have access to safe water. The rate of illiteracy for people over 15 is 41 per cent. There are only 18 mainline telephones per 1,000 people in Africa, compared with 146 for the world as a whole and 567 for high-income countries. In a world that has seen massive accumulation of wealth over the last decade – this is unacceptable and must be tackled head on.

Action, not words
There is an emerging consensus that if we are serious about eradicating poverty then WSSD must be about action not words. We already have global political commitment at the highest levels to poverty eradication and sustainable development, in the shape of Agenda 21 and the Millennium Development Goals. The challenge now is to translate that commitment into an implementable plan of action.

In this context the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has identified five specific areas where concrete results are both essential and achievable in Johannesburg:

Water and sanitation. More than 1 billion people globally are without safe drinking water. Twice that number lack adequate sanitation. And more than 3 million people die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water.

Energy. Two billion people globally currently do not have access to modern energy services. We need to make clean energy supplies accessible and affordable. We need to increase the use of renewable energy sources and improve energy efficiency.

Agricultural productivity. Land degradation affects perhaps as much as two thirds of the world’s agricultural land. As a result, agricultural productivity is declining sharply, while the number of mouths to feed continues to grow. In Africa, especially, millions of people are threatened with starvation.

Biodiversity and ecosystem management. Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate – as much as a thousand times what it would be without the impact of human activity. Half of the tropical rainforests and mangroves have already been lost. About 75 per cent of marine fisheries have been fished to capacity; 70 per cent of coral reefs are endangered.

Health. Communicable diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, cholera, tuberculosis and malaria, represent a serious obstacle to sustainable development. More than 1 billion people globally breathe unhealthy air, and 3 million people die each year from air pollution – two thirds of them poor people, mostly women and children, who die from indoor pollution caused by burning wood and dung.

Decisive action in these areas at the international level would improve the lives of millions of people on our continent, and would complement action at the regional level under NEPAD. We must, however, recognize that such action cannot be delivered by governments alone. It will require partnerships between all the relevant stakeholders, including governments, local communities, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and international agencies. But we must ensure that these partnerships are orchestrated in such a way as to deliver our objectives.

We now need to ensure that as much money as possible is targeted where it is needed most – in Africa. The birth of the AU will make this a momentous year for Africa, and will hopefully increase the chances of success of the biggest ever United Nations summit to be held on African soil. The AU is our one most important contribution to the success of a pursuit for prosperity for the people of our planet  

Mohammed Valli Moosa is Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Republic of South Africa.

PHOTOGRAPH: G. Claude Razafindriabe/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Agenda of hope | Changing the paradigm | Only one Earth | Beyond brackets | African renaissance | Unmissable opportunity | At a glance: GEO-3 | Asking the people | Recapturing momentum | Taking the measure of unsustainability | Breaking the grid lock | Training for transformation | Bring big business to account | Out of the changing room | ‘Dear delegates...’ | We need a dream | Two sides of the same coin: before and after Johannesburg| Quality environmental data for all

Complementary articles in other issues:
Mohammed Valli Moosa: Achieving the vision (Chemicals and the environment) 2002
Mohammed Valli Moosa: Sustainable solutions (Biological diversity) 2000
Issue on Culture, values and the environment, 1996

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