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'Future Earth' Discusses Sustainable Development Challenges for Africa

  • Anita Powell

Scientists and lawmakers meeting in Cape Town discuss ways of promoting sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa. But as I learned first-hand, the challenges are many.

I attempted to interview an expert ahead of the Future Earth conference about ways of boosting sustainable development in Africa.

As if to illustrate the point, though, the electricity in my Johannesburg home went out as I was about to make the late-night call - plunging my entire neighborhood into darkness and knocking out my equipment.

When we finally caught up the next day, Tanya Abrahamse said electrical power is one of the challenges the panel is discussing as they meet this week in Cape Town. Abrahamse is CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Energy is a major issue, she says, given the rise of African megacities - like Lagos in Nigeria - and the fact that not every nation has the same resources or needs.

Future Earth is an international 10-year initiative that brings together scientists, academics and policymakers to research sustainable solutions that will address the challenges of development and environmental change.

It sounds complicated, and this week’s meeting is just one step in what will be a long process, but Abrahamse says it boils down to some very basic needs.

“So for example, we’ve identified water, and all the elements around water: water management, water quality, water quantity, water analysis, understanding groundwater, understanding water under the ground, understanding rainfall patterns, water flow, degradation of waterways, use of water for energy, etcetera, etcetera," she said.

Water is serious business in Africa and can have major effects on societies. A drought last year killed tens of thousands of people in Somalia and other East African nations. Nine African nations have spent more than a decade negotiating over rights to the Nile River. And Africa experts have long warned of the potential of major conflict over water on the continent.

Abrahamse stresses that this meeting in Cape Town is only one step, and one that takes into account complicated factors in the fields of social and natural science.

But the end goal is one that is easy to understand. It’s a higher quality of life for Africans, a future with sustainable solutions on food, water, health - and yes, energy - for all.