Nabil Ben Khatra, CEO of the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (US), at La Presse: “Ecosystems at the service of a sustainable economy”

According to Ben Khatra, thanks to the sustainable use of natural resources, ecosystems provide benefits and services that can be valued to ensure sustainable economic development.

It is true that we rarely link economic development and ecosystems. Because the conservation of ecosystems has always been the subject of debate among scientists, without really capturing the public debate. However, the conservation of ecosystems is above all a socio-economic issue. The sustainability of water resources, the sustainability of agro-ecosystems, the fight against climate change … all these concepts are part of the same goal: to achieve sustainable development, the first challenge for developing countries, especially in Africa. How can the issue of ecosystem conservation be brought back on track? What is the connection between the fight against climate change and the restoration of ecosystems? What are the socio-economic consequences of the degradation of ecosystems in Africa? In order to answer all these problems, the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (US) organized an international conference on the occasion of its 30th anniversary under the theme: “Ecosystems, the most important lever for development on the African continent”.

High legal debates

Supported by the French Development Agency (Dept.), the event, held on 8, 9 and 10 June, was marked by thematic panels, in which scientists, ministers and civil society representatives from across Africa took part in high-quality debates. In fact, the International Conference proposes as a place for the exchange and consolidation of partnerships on issues related to the management, protection, conservation and restoration of ecosystems in Africa. “At this conference, we have invited leading scientists, representatives of the IPCC, former executive secretaries of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, but also of the Convention on Biological Diversity, ministers, senior scientific leaders, politicians and actors in the field. The aim is to reflect together. “It’s a new way of thinking about the conservation of natural resources and ecosystems through their improvement. It’s an approach that needs to be made available to everyone to communicate their interest,” said OSS Executive Secretary Nabil Ben Khatra in a statement to La Presse.

Sustainable use of ecosystems

For the researcher, the link between economic development and the conservation of ecosystems is “clear and closely established”: yes, if the economies of developing countries, especially in Africa, are essentially based on the exploitation of natural resources, their sustainability and their improvement. resources are de facto a compelling necessity. “If we use natural resources sustainably, all ecosystems offer benefits and services that we can use to ensure sustainable economic development. If natural resources are overexploited, it will jeopardize the development of countries. The connection is clear and firmly established. We are currently moving in “many countries towards an exploitation that does not take into account the real potential of their ecosystems. If we exploit them in a way that exceeds their regenerative capacity, we are in fact endangering them,” he said. “At first, local people need to be made aware of this problem so that they comply with the efforts to preserve ecosystems. Ecosystems require restrictions and bans.This is not a particularly relevant solution.We believe that a better valuation of ecosystem services for the benefit to the people will make them aware of the interest of these ecosystems and will encourage them to follow the efforts of conserving the ecosystems. “When the locals know that their lives can be changed thanks to these ecosystems, they become aware of their importance and they want to protect them themselves,” he explained.

How do you value ecosystems?

According to Ben Khatra, in this context, where ecosystems are increasingly weakened, it is essential to establish development systems that value ecosystems. In Tunisia, for example, it is about promoting beekeeping in forests, establishing a sustainable tourism model that promotes the development of crafts, exploiting Aleppo’s pine forests and gear stands, improving the oasis system, which for generations has shown its durability and adaptability to the difficult climate context. , desertification and drought. “We often believe that the forest is an isolated system, far from us, which we can handle at random without forgetting that many people use it illegally.
We must facilitate utilization and unite the local resident with his natural habitat, which is an integral part of an entire ecosystem. Forest dwellers must continue to live in forests, people living near wetlands must have access to sustainable fishing and fish farming … “, he added.

Planning development in the light of climate change

Asked about climate change, a factor that exacerbates and accelerates the degradation of ecosystems, the OSS Executive Secretary stressed the importance of planning development through CC’s prism.
For Ben Khatra, awareness of the climate crisis is the very first immediate action that countries, particularly those affected, must take. “The immediate action to be taken is to become aware of the existence of climate change and to integrate it into our way of planning development. If we do not take this into account, it is clear that the situation is getting worse,” he said. And to continue: “We can also take advantage of disasters and crisis situations to create a paradigm shift. For example, with the Covid crisis, telework is on the rise, especially in African countries where it was not a common practice. The crisis has made us work remotely. Same for climate change. This is perhaps an opportunity to draw our attention to the scarcity of resources, especially water. It allows us to take it into account and consider it in a different way ”.

Show the way

During this international conference, several topics were discussed, including improving ecosystem services, adapting to climate change to better manage migration, and good management of water resources to deal with water stress. The presence of civil society and media actors is, according to the organizers, part of a broad communication aimed at raising public awareness and turning the eyes of African decision-makers on this major issue. “The role of regional organizations is to take the lead. Countries should also follow and make similar arrangements. We are here to help them with that. This is our role, ”concluded Ben Khatra.

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