Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) MOST OF US, including those in attendance at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, recognize that conditions for many people in Africa are tough. Very few of us know though that a third of African youth struggle to access clean water every day.
In Congo Brazzaville, 70% of the youth battle to get clean water, as opposed to 50% of the youth in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. And the figures in Sudan are similar.
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that more than 398 million people in Africa do not have reliable access to drinking water. 900 million youth lack access to adequate hygiene. A third of young people in Africa rely on bottled water; in Nigeria, this number almost doubles to six in ten.
Half the continent’s population between the ages of 18 to 24 spend up to a quarter of their income every month buying fresh water. One in six spends more than half their income. All of this stands in sharp contrast to the UK, where the cost of recommended 50 liters of water per day, is only 0,1% of the average basic salary.
There are many reasons for their predicament; after all, the people of Africa have been on the receiving end of centuries of exploitation by people from the rest of the world. But, perhaps the greatest and most lasting impact will be indirect: climate change.
It is one of the most profound ironies that raw materials extracted from Africa and then beneficiated in the northern hemisphere which rapidly industrialized, as a result, will have a disproportionate effect on the continent from which they were taken.
The continent’s emissions account for less than 3% of the world total, but Africa is the most vulnerable region in the world: Flash flooding or drought, and chaotic weather patterns are increasingly wreaking havoc on the African way of life, from the coastlines to the hinterland, disrupting food and water insecurity in a continent that is already poverty-stricken in many places.
All of this is exacting a terrible cost every year: Lancet, the medical journal, reported that pollution claimed 1,1-million deaths in Africa. The World Health Organisation recorded that 1,2-million people had to flee their homes because of extreme weather.
Sometimes, if you travel across Africa, you might be forgiven for thinking that the ordinary person on the dusty street thinks little about the impact of climate change or the deeper consequences of foreign influence on their homeland. However, you would be grievously mistaken if you did.
African youth especially are extremely vexed by the increase – 80% in fact, want their government to do more about climate change and want them to pursue policies that will lead to their countries going carbon neutral. Four in ten African youth believe climate change will harm them personally. Half sincerely believe that climate change will affect future generations negatively.
Three-quarters of the respondents are deeply concerned about the effect of pollution in the air, water and land and the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events. The same number is very worried about the destruction that is being wreaked upon natural habitats and farmlands, with the associated increase of crop infestation and insect plagues.
Poaching is another problem bedeviling Africa. In a sea of poverty, the illegal killing of wild animals is both a source of income – and food. Youth are concerned about the impact of poaching on their natural heritage, with 69% believing that the practice could lead to the extinction of certain species. At least half believe poaching has increased. In countries like Gabon and Ghana, however, there is a very real awareness of the short-term benefits of poaching, which leads to dissonance about how to deal with it. Generally, 66% of youth in Africa believe products from poaching should be banned, which rises to 80% in countries like Kenya and Ethiopia, but in Nigeria and Sudan, this drops to 33%.
All of these findings are contained in the second edition of the African Youth Survey (AYS). The inaugural survey was completed by researchers in the field in 2019 and released the following year. The second survey was conducted in 2021 and was released earlier this year. It’s a unique inquiry into the ambitions, hopes, and fears of African youth that has been specifically set up to test all of these because the respondents are the next generation of African leaders and yet there has never been a survey to test what they think.
What we see, when we study the survey, is that this next generation is neither disempowered nor ignorant of the hazards their countries and their continents face. On the contrary, these are a highly motivated, highly informed, and deeply committed cohort of citizens determined to ensure they have a chance at a life that was perhaps denied by their parents.
We see how they will not accept fake news or empty platitudes but will hold their leaders to account – across a wide range of different issues, with the environment being one of the key ones, for the simple reason that they are living with the consequences of decisions and acts made by others well before they were even born.
What is vital to understand too, is that their commitment is far more than just lip service, but is rooted in personal commitment and activism. Two-thirds of them are actively supporting, participating in, or donating to environmental causes – led by youth in Kenya, Ghana, and Rwanda. The same proportion is actively working to reduce its own carbon footprint.
But it isn’t enough. COP27, beyond its pomp and circumstance, should spark action and not just platitudes – Africa doesn’t have the time to wait before the youth become leaders in their own right – instead, COP27 should form a clarion call to progressive policymakers and companies wanting to invest in Africa and institutions with a commitment to the continent.
There is a groundswell of support waiting in the wings, ready to be harnessed for the good of all.
As they say in Africa if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.
If the world is serious about helping Africa, it has to work with the youth – in which it will find fertile ground to plant the seeds for change.