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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ethiopia: Ecological Foot Prints; New Rankings

allAfrica.com -- You may find it hard to figure out, but the United States, a large nation as well as the dream export target of every country and Bangladesh, a midget by comparison are on a par when it comes to the sins they commit on the world environment. But if new criteria set by organizations like the Californian based, Redefining Progress which is devoted to ecological footprint analysis, is accepted, we might as well accept that.

But first, what is ecological footprint? How and why do countries get to be classified as good guys and villains by the new set of standard? According to NewScientist 8 April 2006, the scheme which is new and the brainchild of Aubrey Meyer, of the UK, is increasingly getting wide acceptance despite the upset it causes in the conventional ways of ranking countries as environmentally friendly or unfriendly.

Its gist, "The idea of measuring the ecological footprint of nations has become increasingly popular as a way of holding countries to account for their environment impacts. The footprint is an estimate of the land used to sustain a population." " Its main components are land directly build upon: the fields, forestry and mines employed at home and abroad to meet consumer needs and the notional amount of land needed to absorb pollutants like carbon dioxide." In other words each country has its own biocapacity level. A level usually drawn upon the basis of each nation's total footprint divided by its population. A small nation with a high population and a lot of consumer items to go around could easily flunk the test.

Take a small country like Singapore, for instance, which is actually a city-state, as you know. It has a huge population relative to its size. It has managed to give its citizens a high standard of living and made them the envy of many a country in Asia. That means material consumption is as high as anywhere.

Don't be fooled though by the tidiness of its beautiful streets. A lot of litter gets generated everyday of every year. The litter gets whisked away in time all right, unlike the garbage in many developing countries that sits for what looks like ages. Carbon dioxide from its bumper-to-bumper vehicles that guzzle so much oil is substantial. Both of these instances are footprints on the environment and their impacts cross boundaries.

Singapore, therefore, has low biocapacity. It may be a top Asian Tiger when it comes to economic and export-oriented growth. But despite that or because of it, its environmental foot prints are high. Its biocapacity, on the flipside is low.

Ethiopia's biocapacity is on the low side too. Why? Although the country's size is considerably large, and that should be one thing going for it, the rest of the criteria that make countries the "good guys" of the environmental endeavor are absent and the reverse is unfortunately true.

For one thing, the vegetation covers of forests and grasslands have been going down throughout the years and decades. So it follows that the land's carbon absorption capacity is at the minimum.

Secondly, the large amount of soil being eroded by water erosion results in less and less capacity of carbon absorption by the cultivated fields. The effect of this is double loss: deprivation of fertility to the soil arising from loss of carbon and more carbon released to the atmosphere resulting in the build up of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

By the measure of the new scheme, the countries that have high biocapacity (the good guys) are those that have large land mass, rich natural resources and reasonably low population density. The more agricultural lands, large swaths of forests, parks and bigger numbers of rivers and lakes, wild open spaces, the better.

The logic of such assessment is that such countries have more natural vegetation to absorb pollution and more fields and forests to provide natural resources for the world. What it amounts to is that the good guys are those rich in natural resources and not necessarily those who happen to be smart.

Where does that leave countries like China and India that have wowed the world with their galloping growth rate in the last few years? At the bottom of the list, unfortunately. That is because they have too large population numbers and all their successful attempts at improving the lives of their peoples leave indelible footprints on the environment.

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