Environmental policies in Africa are being hindered by a lack of adequate and accessible data and poor coordination between countries, according to experts who were speaking at the launch of 'Africa Environment Outlook 3, Summary Report for Policy Makers'.
For policies to work, there is a need for "clear implementation [of] roadmaps with realistic targets and funding mechanisms" and for "institutional mechanisms to ensure alignment and collaboration", says the report.
The report was commissioned by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and launched at the First Universal Session of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council in Nairobi, Kenya, last week (21 February).
Frank Turyatunga, regional coordinator for UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment in Africa, says that policymakers need data and information on issues such as biological diversity, air quality, climate variability and marine resources, so they can make decisions on how they can be protected or used sustainably.
He adds that research is needed to generate this environmental data, and that scientists should transform it into a form that is easy to use in the decision-making processes.
"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," says Turyatunga.
"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," he adds.
Having environmental data will also help governments prioritise investment in many areas, including health, access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
Accessibility of data is also a problem, says Turyatunga. Policymakers have trouble accessing data in central African countries, but even in southern Africa, where good data is kept, it may not easy to get at.
"If you have data only kept on the shelves, it is not helpful. Policymakers work on behalf of the people and unless they are working from informed positions, they are not going to deliver a good service," says Turyatunga.
He wants to see the establishment of national networks to help various environmental agencies and countries exchange data.
Tanzania's environment minister, Terezya Huvisa, says that governments cannot make decisions or budget without data.
For example, data on environment-related health issues help to budget on the necessary healthcare, says Huvisa, who is also president of the AMCEN.
"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," she says.