West Africa – Issues and Challenges

The world is changing rapidly.

Societies that have lived in equilibrium with their ecosystems for thousands of years are now wrestling with issues of deforestation and the droughts that inevitably follow the large scale cutting of trees. Overpopulation threatens every aspect of biological life.

Technology brings mixed blessings.

In our compassion to relieve suffering and reduce infant mortality, we create even greater suffering through overpopulation and the ecological devastation that follows in it’s wake. We must always remember the basic rules of biology; for example, that an increase in the food supply creates an increase in population. Development and family planning MUST go hand in hand. Few families we met were familiar with the natural rhythm method of birth control. As one worn out mama told us: “Do you think we WANT to have nine children?”

It is not enough to aid and assist. We must also teach the basics of biology, both in the natural rhythms of human life, and in the world around us. Birth control is job#1.

Gender inequality and male chauvinism exasperate the situation. In many cultures, a man’s status is linked to the size of his family. It is quite common in West Africa for the women to do most of the work, while the men supervise. The men do build the structures and help farm, and the land is passed through the paternal line.

We visited one village that had sustained a population of six hundred to eight hundred for about a thousand years. As their numbers swelled to three thousand, the land could no longer sustain them in the traditional manner. Firewood or farms? There is not enough land for both. Families were walking 2.5 miles each direction for firewood already.

With half the population of most villages under 15, there is simply not enough jobs or infrastructure to support all in the manner we in the Developed regions have become accustomed to.

In the face of these challenges there is great hope and optimism for the people of West Africa and other developing regions. In our dual roles as NGO volunteers and socially responsible business people, Sandy Lincoln and myself bring our “entrepreneur’s eye” to the situations we face. One must take stock of the resources at hand and learn how best to utilize them in a sustainable manner.

First and foremost there are the people themselves. Encouraging an educated and non aggressive society that prizes learning and personal integrity is a prerequisite for sustainable growth.

Next are the energy sources the society will run on. As we approach the last 20 years of liquid petroleum reserves, tropical countries are in an excellent position for energy independence. The tropical sun, once a curse, becomes a blessing for the production of photovoltaics and solar distilled alcohol fuel. The region is flush with many oil seed producing pant species. Diesel generators and motors run just as well (better) on renewable vegetable oils as they do on petroleum oils at tropical temperatures. Energy conservation is best practiced BEFORE strong demand exists and the population becomes addicted to energy hog devices. I recommend the discouragement of incandescent light bulbs through extreme taxation, and the subsidizing of compact fluorescence bulbs through out the world.

Wisdom and development must travel hand in hand, a partnership from which will spring a long and sustainable future for us all. The alternatives cannot be contemplated.

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