June 24, 2006

Madagascar meeting urges Africa environment safeguards

By Ed Stoddard

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Conservationists called for urgent
action to protect Africa's fragile environment on Saturday,
saying it was crucial to many people's survival.

Endorsed by 350 scientists, policy makers and
environmentalists, the "Madagascar Declaration" said Africa's
natural wealth had so far failed to improve the lives of most
people on the world's poorest continent.

"Ecosystem services that function as the foundation for
human welfare -- clear air, fresh water, food and fiber, and
natural medicines -- are being jeopardized," the statement

"Reversing this trend is imperative for human well-being,
and for many people, for their very survival," it said.

The five-day conference heard a host of frightening
environmental scenarios from top experts.

Deforestation rates in Africa are probably occurring faster
than previously thought, exacerbating ills including loss of
fertile soil through erosion and loss of habitat for rare
creatures which could attract ecotourists to poor countries.

The conference also heard biodiversity on the continent was
being lost at an unprecedented rate.

Experts said bottom trawling fishing had decimated
populations of marine predators such as tuna off the east coast
of Africa, with unknown consequences for coastal ecosystems.

On a brighter note, an expedition off the coast of
Madagascar found healthy corals which had survived die-offs
associated with climate change elsewhere in the Indian Ocean
and the west African nation of Equatorial Guinea announced new
protected areas covering over 500,000 hectares.

"Action points" highlighted by the conference include:

- Immediate protection for coastal forests, wetlands,
mangroves, estuaries and reefs.

- Policy incentives for local communities to manage their
own resources.

- Finding safe, easy and affordable fuel alternatives to
wood and charcoal to stop many forests being cut down.

- Setting up "environmental national accounts" which
monitor and calculate the value of ecosystems to a country's

While the declaration is merely a guideline for policy
makers and businesses, it has the authority of some of the
world's leading conservation scientists and field biologists.