REFLECTIONS BY...

Halifa Drammeh, long-serving former UNEP staff member

Celebrating UNEP's support to and partnership with governments and their intergovernmental institutions – the case of Africa
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it gives me great pleasure to convey my congratulations to member states, their intergovernmental authorities, the non-governmental bodies, the respective Executive Directors and Staff of the United Nations Environment Programme and the entire international community for the great efforts in protecting, managing and sustaining the global environment on which the common future of humankind rests.

I have been fortunate to have served the custodian of the global environment, UNEP, for almost three decades of its existence, a period which straddles different stages of UNEP’s work, particularly in the areas of assessment, policy development, advisory services, strategy development and implementation. Through my respective roles of regional advisor, Senior Environment and Programme Officer, Deputy Director of Policy Development and Law, acting Director of the United Nations Environment Management Group, and as member, in the latter years, of the Senior Management Group, I had the unique opportunity of taking part, at close range, in the efforts made by the United Nations Environment Programme to reverse and halt the alarming degradation of the Environment.

The vehicles of advancing the UNEP vision for environmentally sound development have included, in an indicative manner, the following:

  • Encouraging national and regional decision makers to play a frontline role in the protection and management of the environment through the adoption of policies, strategies and action plans.
  • According a high degree of attention to the work of regional Ministerial and intergovernmental bodies in translating into action key decisions of the UNEP Governing Council.
  • Demonstrating UNEP’s leadership in fostering effective regional co-operation on the environment, the establishment of regional ministerial bodies on the environment, such as the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) for which UNEP hosts the Secretariat.
  • The Regional Seas Programme to Protect the Coastal and Marine Environment remains a major achievement and has catalysed significant global and regional effort.
  • A number of common positions on key environmental challenges were adopted by African Governments with significant inputs from UNEP, such as the African Common Position on Environment and Development. Prepared on the occasion of the eve of historic United Nations Conference on Environment and Development which was motivated by the Brundtland report on “Our Common Future”.
  • Keeping under constant review the state of the African environment and building capacities as well as policies for strengthening its management, such as the African Common Position on Environment and Development adopted by the Heads of State and Government of the then Organization of African Unity – the forerunner of the present day African Union.
  • UNEP’s work with African Governments in combatting land degradation and desertification is encouraging.
  • A good number of countries, in Africa in particular, have developed national plans to combat desertification.
  • The Organization also strongly supported implementation of the action plans to promote the environmentally sound management of inland waters, at the time commonly referred to as EMINWA.
  • The PanAfrican Implementation and Partnership Conference (Panafcon) was one of the boldest UNEP efforts which resulted in the establishment of the African Ministers’ Council on Water, which today fosters close cooperation on Africa’s water resources and sanitation challenges. UNEP hosted the Secretariat for some time and mobilised funding from the EU as well as from other sources.

The effective work of UNEP in Africa is foremost based on Africa’s leadership, backed up with UNEP’s support. At the regional level, governments lead the way through the decisions of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment. The network of National Environmental Focal Points designated by their respective Ministers, has over the years represented a key devolution of mandate to the Ministries of Environment and has thus rendered cooperation mutually beneficial. These examples are indicative. Cooperation with Africa, its Governments, Ministries of Environment and the Region’s Intergovernmental bodies are premised on firm ground.

The regular support by UNEP to the preparation of the African Environmental Outlook provides a firm basis for effective and results oriented partnerships. In sum, there is a solid strategy at national, sub-regional and regional levels. This makes it possible for UNEP to work effectively at all levels and produce positive results and impacts. It is my hope that this solid record will be emulated in advancing UNEP’s work in the other developing regions of the World.

In was indeed a great opportunity and privilege to have been part of this great experience and progression of tangible and fruitful actions of UNEP straddling the period 1983-2010. Never before has an international body done so much for so long in support of Africa's Environment:

- helping establish national Ministries of Environment in supporting African states to institutionalise environmental management;

- joining hands with Governments to formulate and implement national policies and programmes;

- supporting the efforts of Africa's States to develop common positions with respect to environment and development;

- catalysing the establishment of national environment focal points for UNEP; facilitating the coming into being of the Sub-Regional Environment Management Groups which contributed significantly to the mobilisation of a continental network to advance environmental management;

- joining hands with African Governments to catalyse the establishment of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment and subsequently the African Ministers Council on Water;

- contributing to the preparation and adoption of Regional Agreements to address the major environmental challenges are all part of the laudable UNEP record in Africa.

These are snapshots of the huge efforts made by UNEP in support of its host continent, Africa. I feel greatly honoured to have served, with exception of Maurice Strong (the founding Executive Director), almost all the Executive Directors of UNEP, notably Mustapha Tolba, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Klaus Toepfer and Achim Steiner. It has indeed been a great honour to have served fruitfully for so long.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of UNEP, I wish its membership of States and its entire staff continued great progress in UNEP's forward journey.