From: Carl Hartman, Associated Press
Published August 18, 2005 12:00 AM

Explorer Says Preserving African Resources Key to Relieving Continent's Poverty

WASHINGTON — Preserving African resources should be a priority for world leaders trying to pull Africans from poverty, an explorer said after recently flying around the continent taking pictures of the land.


For much of the 112,650 kilometers (70,000 miles) flight, J. Michael Fay was no more than 90 meters (300 feet) off the ground.


His seven-month mission, which ended in January, was to take a photo every 20 seconds, or about one image for every 0.4 square miles (1 square kilometer), and produce what the National Geographic Society calls an unprecedented record of human impact on the land.


The more than 100,000 digital pictures -- some of which are being exhibited at the society's national headquarters in Washington -- show promising sights such as a tourist beach in South Africa reclaimed from a mining area, a wastewater purification plant that helps irrigate vineyards and large regions where huge herds of antelope run free.


Sobering shots, however, picture city slums, rows of coffins for AIDS victims and severe soil erosion.


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"When I started on this trip, oil was US$30 (euro25) a barrel. Oil is US$65 (euro53) a barrel today -- US$100 (euro80) tomorrow?" Fay said at a news conference Wednesday. "People have to start thinking more about these things."


Fay has managed natural parks in Congo and the Central African Republic and tramped the long forest border between Gabon and Congo. He was sent on his latest venture, along with a pilot to fly the small Cessna plane, by the National Geographic Society and the Wildlife Conservation Society.


"There are places where the continent is so stressed by overexploitation that entire ecosystems are in or near collapse," the National Geographic Society said in a statement Wednesday. "The result is human misery."


Fay said former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had become convinced of the importance of sustainable development in Africa.


"Now I want to talk with (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair and (U.S. Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice," Fay said.


He plans to speak next month before an International Conservation Caucus that U.S. Congress has created, and hopes to influence the European Union, United Nations and the World Bank as well.


In June, the world's richest countries agreed to cancel US$40 billion (euro32.5 billion) of debt owed by 18 of the poorest ones. The cancellation frees money that previously had gone for interest payments and now can be used for projects to raise incomes.


Fay would like to see more income in the pockets of Africa's poor, but said he believes longer-term planning and a focus on preserving resources can reduce the burden on foreign donors while empowering Africans to build their own future.


Some foreign help, he said, can have unforeseen consequences. He cited international aid given to grow rice in Tanzania, which he said has so reduced the flow of water that a big hydroelectric plant downstream can work at only 30 percent of capacity. Along the way, hippopotamuses suffered from a shortage of mud to wallow in.


Fay praised a national park in northern Mozambique that he said enabled its inhabitants to press the government to prevent foreign fishing fleets from operating close to shore. The restrictions not only benefit local fishing, he said, but also will benefit foreign fishing fleets 20 years from now by permitting stocks of fish to renew.


Source: Associated Press


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