“Companies are increasingly seeking to demonstrate ‘no net loss of biodiversity’ as a result of their activities, stimulated by new regulations, recent requirements from investors and a more sophisticated approach to handling social and environmental risk”, said Kerry ten Kate, UK-based director of-
Online Africa is developing even faster than the new highways of offline Africa. Undersea cables reaching Africa on the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts, plus innovative mobile-phone providers, have raised internet speeds and slashed prices. In some African markets you can buy a daily dose of internet on a mobile phone for about the cost of a banana (ie, less than ten American cents). This burgeoning connectivity is making Africa faster, cleverer and more transparent in almost everything that it does.
Google can take a lot of the credit. The American search-and-advertising colossus may even be the single biggest private-sector influence on Africa. It is not just that its internet-search and e-mail are transforming Africa. Take maps. Before Google, ordinary Africans struggled to find maps. Military and civilian mapping offices hoarded rolls of colonial-era relics and sold them at inflated prices. By contrast, Google encourages African developers to layer maps with ever more data. In Kenya 31,000 primary schools and 6,900 secondary schools are marked on Google maps. Satellite views even let users see if the schools have built promised new classrooms or water points. Similar initiatives let voters verify local voting figures at election time. Satellite views of traffic jams have also shamed some African cabinets into spending more on city infrastructure.
Google has also pepped up Africa’s media, enabling Africans to read each other’s newspapers. Google is improving translation software to bring more Africans who speak only local languages online. As well as English, French, Portuguese and Arabic, it offers Zulu, Afrikaans, Amharic and Swahili. Languages like Wolof, Hausa, Tswana and Somali are set to follow.
Faster downloading speeds have helped make Google’s YouTube video-viewing more popular. Young urban Africans organise YouTube parties. The company is also trying to help African governments digitise information and make it freely available to their citizens. Many rulings in the higher courts of Ghana, for instance, are going online.
Yet critics complain that Google is buying up enormous amounts of virgin digital land in Africa at virtually no cost. Within a couple of decades, without the regulatory oversight of the African Union or African governments, they say, Africa’s internet life will be almost entirely in hock to the Google giant. Even the company’s decision to go slow on seeking profits from Africa by offering cheap deals has been attacked by African would-be rivals, which say that such tactics are only extending Google’s unfair advantage.
Google says its recent effort to best a rival South African firm, Mocality, was an embarrassing aberration. Google’s top man in Africa, Joe Mucheru, brushes aside fears of a monopoly. The company’s advertising model, he says, helps African business. “The more Google grows, the more the entire ecosystem grows.” He is especially keen on Google+, a service that seeks to provide an even more useful online community than Facebook
Google in Africa: It’s a hit, Economist, May 12,2012, at 57
What looked like an admittedly temporary reprieve for the swift currents and extraordinary biodiversity of the Mekong river is now over. In December the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental body made up of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, called again for approval of a potentially devastating dam at Xayaburi in northern Laos to be withheld until more is known about its effect on the lower Mekong. Apart from high up in the gorges of south-western China, the Mekong remains undammed. But now CH. Karnchang, a Thai construction giant contracted to build a $3.8 billion dam at Xayaburi has told the Bangkok Stock Exchange that dam construction officially began on March 15th, and that 5,000 workers have just been hired.
The news has triggered an angry response from riparian neighbours. The December agreement, calling for further scientific study of the environmental impacts, included Laos. Opponents of the dam argue that the Xayaburi dam will cause immense harm to ecosystems and imperil 65m South-East Asians who rely on the Mekong, the world’s biggest inland fishery, for their sustenance. Cambodia’s water-resources minister, Lim Kean Hor, sent a strong protest letter to Laos. He called for an immediate halt to construction until an independent assessment has been completed. Japan has just agreed to fund a study on Mekong dams, under the auspices of the MRC. Vietnam strongly backs Cambodia, and has repeatedly called for no more dams to be built on the Mekong for at least ten years. The Lao government’s failure formally to notify its Mekong partners about the construction, allowing the dam to proceed under the radar, clearly undermines the credibility of the MRC’s consultation processes. (pdf) In truth, though the Mekong Agreement signed in 1995, which gave birth to the commission, requires the four nations to consult and respect neighbours’ concerns, final decisions are left to each sovereign state.
A “Save the Mekong” campaign, chiefly among Thai non-government organisations (NGOs) has been gathering force. The NGOs complain of silence from the commission’s head office, based in the Lao capital of Vientiane. The MRC appears incapable even of sending a monitoring team to the dam site. Perhaps Cambodia will file a complaint against Laos in an international court. More likely, as Niwat Roykaew, chairman of the Chiang Khong Mekong Conservation Group, suggests, local residents might have no choice but to use sit-ins and other obstructions in order to shut down the Mekong “friendship bridges” between Thailand and Laos, should the MRC fail to compel Laos to suspend the dam construction.
A dam on the Mekong: Opening the floodgates, Economist, May 5, 2012, at 43
An international fund to protect the Amazon forest launched by Brazil in 2008 has gotten bogged down in red tape and donors are frustrated their $466 million contributions are hardly put to use, a Norwegian official said. The fund was designed to slow deforestation by stimulating sustainable economic alternatives to cattle ranching and farming, which have destroyed parts of the forests. So far Brazil has only used $39 million on 23 sustainable growth projects, with another $53 million under contract.
A government official from Norway, the fund’s largest donor, told Reuters in Brasilia that his country is unhappy with Brazil’s slow pace in identifying new projects, which has raised questions about the use of the funds in Brazil, where they are managed by the state-owned National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES). The source, who asked not to be named, said the funds contracted by the BNDES dropped by half between 2010 and 2011. This has discouraged other potential donors from committing funds, the source said.
Conservationists say the BNDES has stymied projects with paperwork and endless meetings. Erika Nakazono, who runs a project for a social map of the communities living in the Amazon, said it took 19 months to get approval and somresearchers quit because of the delay. “The bureaucracy is very difficult. At one point I wondered whether all the effort was worth it,” Nakazono said.
The BNDES official heading the bank’s deforestation control department, Mauro Pires, admitted that the fund is not working as well as donors hoped. “People wanted things done faster and to cover a wider range (of projects),” Pires told Reuters. He said the fund was a pioneering venture and procedures were still being worked out. “We are working to create projects that go the heart of the deforestation problem,” he said.
By Jeferson Ribeiro, Brazil’s Amazon Fund bogs down, donors frustrated,Reuters, Jan.13, 2012
Eight South American countries pledged to boost cooperation to protect one of the planet’s largest natural reserves from deforestation and illegal trafficking in timber and minerals. Representatives of Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela gathered in Manaus, northern Brazil, also vowed to speak with one voice at next June’s UN conference on sustainable development in Rio.
The Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, is one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water. Tuesday’s (Nov. 22, 2011) meeting involving signatories of the 1978 Amazon Cooperation Treaty (OTCA), focused on the Amazon Fund, a joint initiative launched in 2008 to combat deforestation and support conservation and sustainable development. “The Brazilian government is committed to revitalizing the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (OTCA),” said Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota as he opened the one-day meeting. “A stronger OTCA is in the interest of member states.” Also present were his counterparts Ricardo Patino of Ecuador, Suriname’s Winston Lackin, Venezuela’s Ricardo Maduro as well as representatives of other OTCA parties. They reviewed agreements signed to protect the Amazon and discussed navigation rules on the Amazon river and a joint stance at next year’s Rio conference.
Earlier a Brazilian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Brazil, which has the largest tract of Amazon rainforest, was keen on “expediting the process to implement the Amazon Fund.” The initiative has received donations of nearly $58 million (42 million euros) over the past two years, well short of the initial target of one billion dollars. It notably seeks to improve satellite tracking of forest deforestation and environmental plans in border areas. “Sharing forest data among Amazon countries will facilitate the adoption of coordinated policies to combat deforestation and will ensure that we are better prepared for international discussions on sustainable development,” Patriota said.
Last year the Amazon lost 7,000 square kilometers (2,702 square miles), down from the historic peak of 2003-2004, when more than 27,700 square kilometers were deforested. Officials say Amazon logging mainly results from fires, the advance of agriculture and cattle farming as well as illegal trafficking in timber and minerals.
Ecuador is meanwhile pushing an innovative proposal to combat global warming under which it would not exploit its oil reserves in the Amazon in exchange for international compensation of $3.6 billion dollars over 12 years.
Covering an area of seven million square kilometers, the Amazon is home to 40,000 plant species, millions of animal species and some 420 indigenous tribes, including 60 who live in total isolation. According to OTCA, 38.7 million people live in the region, roughly 11 percent of the eight Amazon countries’ population.
By Hector Velasco, Amazon countries vow to enhance conservation efforts, Agence France Presse,Nov. 23, 2011
Reports that Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is sitting on 44 tonnes of ivory worth US$10 million, which it cannot sell are disturbing. Once again we have a situation where an international body, in this case the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), is working against the interests of Zimbabwe. We have a situation where Zimbabwe is being stopped from trading in its wildlife products to raise money to sustainably manage the wildlife for posterity. For years now Zimbabwe has been lobbying, campaigning and begging that its fellow members in Cites support its bid to trade in ivory in a controlled and accountable manner. Zimbabwe’s wildlife management programme is excellent despite operating with limited resources. We have kept our wildlife populations high, including the endangered species like the rhino. The war against poachers has been sustained for the past three decades of our independence.
But our elephant population is clearly too high and is a danger to the environment. It is estimated that the population is over 100 000 against a holding capacity that is half of that. The only way to protect the environment and future elephant populations, as well as other wildlife, is to periodically cull the elephants and keep the population at manageable levels.
Yet we have countries that do not have elephant populations of their own seeking to stop Zimbabwe from economically benefiting from its wildlife. The US$10 million that could be realised from selling the ivory stockpiled by the Parks authorities could go a long way in ensuring that the infrastructure and equipment in our national parks is maintained at levels that produce efficiency in wildlife management and conservation programmes. Apart from Kenya, which has genuine concerns about allowing trade in ivory given that it also has high elephant populations which could be poached, the other countries don’t stand to realise much economic value from their low elephant populations. But again Kenya gets a lot of donor funding to keep its wildlife programmes running. It is being rewarded for supporting the Western view of absolute protection instead of sustainable and profitable use. Zimbabwe is under economic sanctions, which means less money will find its way into wildlife preservation from the national budget. If the same forces that oppose its desire to trade in ivory are not putting money into wildlifthen they are working towards the collapse of our wildlife programmes.
An example cited by Parks director-general Vitalis Chadenga is that of the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park, where other countries are getting assistance and Zimbabwe is being left out. If Zimbabwe was allowed to off-load at least 10 tonnes a year, it would not have the kind of stockpile it now has. But it last had a Cites-approved sale in 2008 when only five tonnes where sold to China and Japan.
The point is that Zimbabwe will not stop culling elephants because this is a necessary process in managing its wildlife environment. So why not allow it to raise money from wildlife products to maintain the same environment. What is unfortunate is that the 175-member Cites has been hijacked by Western protectionist and animal welfare groups, who could not conserve wildlife in their own countries but now want to superintend over ours. Zimbabwe has proved through the Campfire programme that if communities are allowed to derive economic benefits from wildlife they will preserve it.
Zimbabwe: Ivory Stockpile – Cites Should Let us Hold Controlled Sales, AllAfrica.com, Oct. 13, 2011