Lack of environmental data 'hindering African policy makers'

Frank Turyatunga. (Image source: IISD Reporting Services)Frank Turyatunga. (Image source: IISD Reporting Services)A new report has called for African countries to share environmental data and take a more coordinated approach to policy making

The 'Africa Environment Outlook 3, Summary Report for Policy Makers', which was commissioned by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), highlighted an apparent lack of high quality, accessible data.

For environmental policies to work, the report said that the "clear implementation [of] roadmaps with realistic targets and funding mechanisms" was needed and also called for "institutional mechanisms to ensure alignment and collaboration".

The report was launched at the First Universal Session of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council which was held recently in Nairobi, Kenya.

Frank Turyatunga, regional coordinator of UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment in Africa, said that policymakers need data on various issues including biological diversity, air quality, climate variability and marine resources, to enable them to make informed decisions.

Research is needed to generate this environmental data, Turyatunga added, and scientists should ensure it is in a form that is easy to use during the decision-making process.

"Policymakers need good information based on up-to-date scientifically credible and relevant data — not guesswork that is more likely to lead to mistakes in planning," Turyatunga was quoted as saying by SciDev.Net.

"For instance, the water sector in Kenya is responsible for researching and building data on water availability, its quality and distribution. But because they have financial and technical capacity challenges, this has not been done adequately."

Access to good, easy to understand environmental data, would also have a positive impact upon other areas such as health, safe water supplies and sanitation.

Turyatunga stressed that such data needed to be easy to access, saying that even in southern African countries where good data is kept, it is still hard to access.

"If you have data only kept on the shelves, it is not helpful," said Turyatunga. "Policymakers work on behalf of the people and unless they are working from informed positions, they are not going to deliver a good service."

Turyatunga called for national networks to be created to enable the exchange of data between environmental agencies and between countries.

Terezya Huvisa, Tanzania's environment minister and president of AMCEN, said, "We have difficulties in funding research, but we seriously need data to plan and implement policy programmes for the benefit of the people of Africa."

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