HARRY BARNES-DABBAN, Executive Coordinator, Ports Environmental Network-Africa (PENAf)
Most African ports have in the last decade seen institutional and infrastructure reform in a bid to not only modernise infrastructure but to also enhance productivity, efficiency and quality of service delivery. This has successfully attracted private sector involvement in the ports and significantly improved port operational performance. The reform progress do not however reflect in environmental protection and performance in the ports. Benefits of integrating environmental concerns with commercial and operational objectives in achieving sustainable ports seem regrettably missing in African ports.
With a focus on infrastructure development to enhance competition and attract more traffic, environmental implications of increased port operational activities remain undefined for any effective and efficient policy pursuit. However, in the face of continual decline of the overall global environmental quality and increasing pressures on world resources, African ports as part of the global maritime community are faced with a reality they cannot ignore. They are obliged to take environmental responsibility in applying and committing themselves to international conventions, rule, regulations, and practices to meet environmental demands required of them.
African ports generally lag behind in effective pursuance of an environmental agenda and policies in this direction regard have received low priority and attention. The ports face common environmental challenges that include ships waste disposal, hazardous and dangerous cargo, illegal waste shipment, oil spill, dredging and disposal of dredged material, ballast water discharge, exhaust emission from ships’ engine, vehicular emissions, traffic congestion, dust pollution, effluent discharge, water quality, noise, pollution from port industrial activities among others. Measures to deal efficiently with these challenges acknowledged to be transnational in character and thus requiring cooperative and collaborative approaches are not only inadequate. The ports themselves inherently operate as fragmented individual entities under a concentration of national power with little recourse to linkages of environmental issues among them. This offers an incentive for ports to free-ride on positive environmental actions of their neighbours and thereby render all of them vulnerable.
African ports must of necessity initiate proactive and innovative actions and mechanisms that integrate environmental considerations into port policy making to promote sustainability. The inextricably interwoven dimensions of the drivers inducing institutional and infrastructural reform of African ports is equally imperative for nurturing and supporting environmental protection and performance. The ports must therefore collaboratively pay attention to understanding the dynamics of the appearance and participation of the private sector in port operations, international environmental obligations, and the transnational character of their common environmental problems. In this way, African port policy dynamics would be redefined to overcome environmental gaps and inefficiencies by balancing port operational and commercial objectives with environmental concerns and thereby making African ports competitive and more attractive.
“Together we can make our ports green and keep our waters blue”