“The report challenges the myth that Africa is poor,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner said of the study, the Africa Environment Outlook-2 (AE0-2).“Indeed, it points out that its vast natural wealth can, if sensitively, sustainably and creatively managed, be the basis for an African renaissance – a renaissance that meets and goes beyond the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” he added of the targets to slash a host of ills, such as extreme hunger and poverty, high infant and maternal mortality and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.“But this is not inevitable and, as the AE0-2 points out, African nations face stark choices,” he warned. “If policies remain unchanged, political will found wanting and sufficient funding proves to be elusive, then Africa may take a far more unsustainable track that will see an erosion of its nature-based wealth and a slide into ever deeper poverty.” Beyond home-grown issues like deforestation and water wastage, the report notes the imported challenges, ranging from genetically modified organisms and the costs of alien invasive species to a switch of chemical manufacturing from the developed to the developing world.But it also cites a wide range of international environment treaties to which many African countries are now parties as well as new cooperative agreements covering shared river and ecosystems like the Limpopo and the Congo basin’s globally important forests. Initiatives like the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) also promise to propel the region onto a more prosperous path that balances economic, social and environmental concerns. Several African countries, like the Gambia and Zambia, are mainstreaming the environment in their Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and other countries are starting to use tax and other market mechanisms to conserve ecosystems like forests. “I am convinced that we are fast reaching a watershed in Africa’s response and that the pieces of a sustainable jigsaw puzzle are being steadily put into place,” Mr. Steiner said. “Governments are signalling an increased willingness to cooperate and to engage over a wide range of pressing regional and global issues. The economic importance of the environment is increasingly recognized by Africa’s leaders as an instrument for development, for livelihoods, for peace and for stability. I sincerely believe we have a real opportunity to take this impetus a long way,” he concluded. Among the many sources of possible wealth the report cites the “huge but relatively untapped” potential for tourism based around nature and cultural sites; suitable land to feed its people; abundant but little used water resources for irrigation, drinking water and power generation; and its status as “a mining giant” producing nearly 80 per cent of the world’s platinum, more than 40 per cent of the globe’s diamonds and more than a fifth of its gold and cobalt. It calls for a transition from being a major exporter of primary resources to being one with a vibrant industrial and manufacturing base.And it warns against the pitfalls in development: pure market forces alone in food production could lead to greater land degradation, and industrial expansion could deprive the general public of water.It proposes solutions such as government-held lands being put into production rather than over-exploiting existing agricultural land, and proper pollution controls and greater efficiency in water management