From: Marta Falconi, Associated Press
Published March 16, 2005 12:00 AM

Nobel Peace Winner Appeals for Protection of African Forests in Rome

ROME — The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner appealed Tuesday for better protection of Central Africa's forests in an attempt to eradicate poverty and bring peace to the region, a U.N agency said.


At a meeting on forest management at the Rome headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Wangari Mathai -- currently Kenya's deputy environment minister -- called for euro1.3 billion (US$1.7 billion) for a 10-year project aimed at saving the Congo Basin ecosystem.


"It may be argued this is a lot of money, but it isn't if it is used to save such an exceptional ecosystem whose destruction would have a devastating impact ... on the entire planet," Mathai said.


"Investing in the protection and conservation of the environment, including the Congo Basin Ecosystem, would be pre-emptying future conflicts and instead investing in peace," she said.


The "Convergence Plan" project brings together 11 Central Africa countries, including Cameroon, Chad, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola. Mathai said one of the solutions to raise funds for forest management would be the cancelation or conversion of countries' foreign debts.


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"That money could be converted to do conservation projects," Mathai said. "This would easily give these countries up to 40 percent of what they're asking."


Concrete steps are yet to be defined, she said, hinting that July's meeting of the Group of Eight nations "might come up with a concrete suggestion."


Mathai argued that such "silent tsunamis" often pass completely unnoticed in Africa.


"Why is it that the same humanity that responded so passionately to the killer waves in the Indian Ocean respond so nonchalantly to the silent tsunamis in Africa?" she said.


Mathai contends the destruction of the Congo Basin would affect the world's climate as well as agriculture, energy sources and water systems. With its 241 million hectares (595 million acres) of forest, the basin is the world's second largest green lung after Brazil's Amazon.


The importance of forests in maintaining the ecological balance of the planet lies in their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, combat the transformation of lush lands to desert and serve as shields against flooding and erosion, Mathai said.


"We've learned to link deforestation with the dry-up of the rivers, which has a negative impact on agriculture," she said. "This ultimately results in an inability of the environment to sustain livelihood."


Mathai, the first woman from Africa to be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize, has worked for the past 30 years to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and other countries in Africa.


Source: Associated Press


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