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The top 5 environmental challenges facing Africa in 2023

The top 5 environmental challenges facing Africa in 2023

The top 5 environmental challenges facing Africa in 2023

Africa, the second-largest and second-most-populous continent in the world, faces numerous environmental challenges with far-reaching implications for its ecosystems, communities, and sustainable development.


Despite contributing to just 3% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, Africa bears the brunt of climate change. The recently released African Economic Outlook 2022  report by the African Development Bank highlights the continent’s vulnerability to climate change and its inadequate preparedness for adapting to climatic shocks.


Here are some of the most pressing environmental issues in Africa and how local and national governments are addressing them.




Deforestation poses a significant global concern as it disrupts the ecological balance not only in Africa but also worldwide. The clearing of forests for timber and agriculture brings about negative consequences such as soil erosion, climate change, and decreased rainfall.


In Africa, deforestation is driven by multiple factors, including the cultivation of cash crops like cocoa, which holds significant importance in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon, contributing significantly to global cocoa production. The loss of forests has detrimental effects on local communities that rely on the protective function of forests against floods.


Forests serve as natural sponges, absorbing rainfall, stabilizing soil, and maintaining a regulated water release. However, the acceleration of deforestation in Africa disrupts the soil structure, disturbing previously secure soil particles. Consequently, heavy rainfall leads to flash floods due to the absence of ground cover resulting from deforestation.


Deforestation also contributes to a decrease in rainfall. Agriculture in Africa heavily relies on weather conditions, and farmers depend on consistent light, warmth, and precipitation for food production. The increasing deforestation in Africa reduces moisture absorption into the atmosphere, resulting in reduced rainfall and an elevated risk of droughts.


Fortunately, African nations are recognizing the importance of addressing deforestation and taking on financial responsibilities. Rwanda, for example, has pledged to restore two million hectares by 2020 and has tripled its restoration budget in the past five years. Similarly, Malawi has committed US$4.5 million to youth-led restoration implementation.


Air Pollution:


A 2019 study conducted by NASA revealed that air pollution is responsible for approximately 780,000 premature deaths in Africa each year. The expansion of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria and South Africa has contributed to high mortality rates, while deaths in West and Central Africa are primarily linked to fire emissions.


UNICEF research indicates that outdoor air pollution deaths in Africa have increased by 60% between 1990 and 2017. Air pollution in Africa is mainly caused by emissions of ozone, carbon monoxide, and organic carbon from the gas industry and urban areas.


These pollutants account for over 300,000 deaths annually. Although burning forests and fields are one of the primary sources of air pollution, this practice is common in areas with low population densities. Burning biomass ranks as the third-leading cause of premature deaths related to air pollution, resulting in approximately 70,000 fatalities each year.


The challenge of improving power connectivity in rural or sparsely populated areas poses difficulties for governments and private sector organizations. The isolation of many rural locations in Africa increases the cost of capital infrastructure for energy distribution.


To address this issue, governments are investing in solar and wind power facilities to provide clean and affordable energy to people in these areas. This approach aims to minimize the health hazards and diseases associated with long-term exposure to burning wood fuel, coal, and the use of kerosene lights and stoves.


Africa has made significant progress in the development of its solar energy industry in recent years. The continent has witnessed a substantial increase of over 1.8 GW in new solar installations, primarily led by countries such as Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana.


To enhance energy access and support sustainable economic growth, Africa’s renewable energy mix has shifted away from conventional hydropower and thermal facilities towards renewable alternatives.


Water Pollution:


Contaminated water poses a severe threat to African communities, leading to a multitude of health issues. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA),  approximately 115 people in Africa die every hour due to illnesses caused by poor hygiene, inadequate sanitation, and polluted water.


Access to clean and safe water is vital for overall well-being and good health. Unfortunately, numerous African communities lack access to such water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene. Moreover, freshwater sources are contaminated with viruses, germs, parasites, and pollutants, resulting in a situation of water scarcity.


This scarcity contributes to the spread of tropical diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and diarrhea. To obtain clean drinking water, families in these communities often have to travel long distances. The responsibility of fetching water, typically involving carrying heavy buckets, often falls on the female members and young girls of the family.


This additional burden forces them to leave school prematurely, depriving them of educational opportunities and hindering their ability to support their families in the future. Moreover, the journeys to collect water expose girls and women to physical and sexual risks, further exacerbating their vulnerability.


Biodiversity Loss:


Africa’s biodiversity plays a crucial role on a global scale. The continent boasts 22% of the world’s mammalian species, close to one-fifth of avian species, and one-sixth of all plant species. It is also home to eight of the 36 biodiversity hotspots worldwide, which are renowned for their high levels of endemic species and represent the richest and most biologically endangered regions globally.


However, Africa is experiencing an unprecedented decline in biodiversity due to various factors. Population growth, intensive agricultural practices, rapid urbanization, infrastructure development, and illegal trafficking contribute to this decline.


The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has identified Madagascar and the islands of the Indian Ocean as particularly endangered areas in Africa. According to IPBES, approximately one million species are currently at risk of extinction, with many more facing a similar fate in the coming decades.


If current trends continue, it is projected that by the end of the century, 20-30% of lake species, and 50-60% of African bird and mammal species, wildlife, and fisheries will face extinction due to ecosystem overuse and degradation.


To address these challenges, member nations of the East African Community (EAC), including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, South Sudan, and Rwanda, have developed a regional strategy to combat poaching, illegal trade, and the transportation of wildlife and wildlife products.


This strategy is being implemented at regional and national levels and built upon six key pillars: strengthening the policy framework, enhancing law enforcement capabilities, promoting research and development, engaging local communities, and fostering regional and international cooperation.


0il Spills:


Nigeria, Africa’s leading oil producer, extracts over 300 million liters of crude oil daily, accounting for approximately 70% of the country’s earnings. However, since the discovery of petroleum in Nigeria over 60 years ago, uncontrolled oil spills have become a recurring problem in the oil industry, which serves as the country’s primary source of GDP.


The Niger Delta, in particular, experiences an estimated annual spillage of 240,000 barrels of crude oil, resulting in the contamination of agriculture, waterways, and the atmosphere with hazardous chemicals.


The consequences of these spills are devastating. More than 40 million liters of crude oil are spilled in the Niger Delta each year, causing loss of life and severe harm to the local ecosystem. Between 1976 and 2014, the oil-rich region witnessed over 12,000 reported cases of oil spills, as highlighted in a 2018 report by the Journal of Health and Pollution. More than half of these spills were caused by tanker accidents and pipeline degradation.


Research linking environmental pollution to infant and child mortality rates in the Niger Delta reveals that oil spills occurring within a 10-kilometer radius of a mother’s residence increase neonatal mortality rates and have detrimental effects on the health of surviving offspring.


Furthermore, oil companies operating in the Niger Delta have faced accusations of failing to fulfill their legal obligation to clean up spills within the 24-hour timeframe stipulated by Nigerian law. Amnesty International has specifically charged Shell and Eni, the largest corporations in the Niger Delta, for their alleged negligence in responding to local oil spills.


According to the human rights organization, the environmental disaster in the Niger Delta has worsened due to the companies’ irresponsible handling of oil spills. However, both Shell and Eni have refuted these allegations.


In conclusion, the environmental problems faced by Africa demand immediate action and long-term commitment from governments, communities, and international partners. 



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