African countries urged to protect ocean resources

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African governments must show more commitment to the conservation of their water resources in order to protect and preserve their contribution to future generations.

The remarks were made on Monday, May 19 by the co-Chair of the Global Ocean Commission, Trevor Manuel, during the African Development Bank (AfDB) Annual Meetings in Kigali, Rwanda.

In an interactive session Manuel and the former Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, called on African leaders to adopt realistic approaches against destructive activities such as overfishing and pollution, which have had an adverse effect on the water resources in and around the continent.

“Reversing the degradation of oceans is key to the sustainable development of Africa, yet, it is one aspect that is overlooked. As Africans, we must realize that many people depend on water bodies for their daily survival, and we cannot talk of sustainable development unless we tackle these issues,” Manuel said.

Manuel added that although oceans cover almost three quarters of the earth’s surface, there is currently no official system to provide an international view of how badly they have been affected, or a general set of rules to govern their exploitation.

“Lack of commitment to protect the oceans has led to overfishing in many waters that are under African jurisdiction. You can find it everywhere – in Gabon, South Africa, Nigeria and many other countries. This is an issue that all countries have to rise up to,” he said.

“I know that many decisions are delayed by bureaucratic tendencies, but my hope is that the plight of Africa’s water bodies gets the awareness they deserve.”

Pascal Lamy, the former Director General of WTO, said that due to poverty, many African countries trade away large portions of their ocean territories to developed nations.

Most of these developed nations, according to Lamy, use advanced technology to fish, which makes it possible to exploit water resources to irreversible levels.

“Many developed countries are ready to pay a lot of money to fish in African waters. Due to extreme poverty and corruption in some parts of Africa, governments sell fishing rights to the developed countries, which in the end leads to over-exploitation of the resources,” Lamy said.

“We need politicians to start acting. Governments must understand that the seas are more valuable than the money they get from selling licenses to advanced shipping companies from the West.”

During the interactive session, Donald Kaberuka, the President of AfDB, challenged African countries to stop selling fishing rights to developed countries.

“If you look at the money they get from fishing in African waters, it is more than the money they send to Africa through development aid. This is a case of the rich versus the poor. They take advantage of some weaknesses in our continental institutions to exploit our water resources. Therefore, as leaders, we must take action,” Kaberuka said.