ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA//WASHINGTON (May 15, 2018)—Building on decades of work across the continent, World Resources Institute inaugurated a new regional office, WRI Africa, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Drawing on WRI’s global knowledge base, hands-on experience in emerging economies, and prior work in Africa, WRI Africa will have a dual role: engaging with partners in Ethiopia and serving as a hub for WRI’s growing engagement in Africa.

“Africa is on the front lines of the most exciting economic development and environmental challenges in the world. Given the rapid growth and innovation across Africa, we have much to learn from its people, landscapes, and histories,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President & CEO, WRI. “With nearly half the world’s poor in Africa, we are eager to expand our work with partners to bring more people out of poverty, while helping advance more vibrant landscapes, more fresh water, and more livable cities where people can thrive.”

According to IMF projections, five of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. Africa’s population is projected to double to 2.5 billion people by 2050, and Nigeria will soon overtake the United States as the world’s third most populous country. Africa is also urbanizing rapidly and much of the continent’s infrastructure has yet to be built, creating openings to apply the technologies that are more energy efficient, low-carbon and low-waste.

“Africa’s challenges are often opportunities in disguise. The continent can bypass development stages without paying the price many developed and emerging economies have paid having grown rapidly, but at the expense of the environment,” said Dr. Gemedo Dalle, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ethiopia. “The complexity of Africa’s challenges also requires a multidisciplinary approach. WRI brings a comprehensive grasp of the challenges and strong support for Africa to leapfrog to a clean and green future, whilst providing effective support to enhance a climate resilient growth path.”

Africa is rich in natural resources, yet fresh water is scarce, 7 in 10 people lack access to electricity, and over 60 percent of land is degraded, contributing the growing food security challenges. Widespread poverty and heavy reliance on agriculture make many people in Africa more vulnerable to climate change than other regions.

“African leaders face choices today that will impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of people and the stability of vital ecosystems for generations to come. WRI Africa will enable us to deepen our evidence-based analysis in the region to support civil society, companies and governments in making decisions that protect the environment and improve human well-being,” said Kitty van der Heijden, Director, WRI Europe & Africa.

Recognizing Africa’s size, complexity and diversity, WRI Africa will focus on three core issues: forests, cities and water.

Forests: Africa holds almost 30 percent of the world's forests, which provide subsistence to at least 100 million people. Yet Africa’s forests are under pressure from industrial agriculture and extraction of timber, minerals, oil and gas. WRI staff will support African countries to develop land use planning frameworks that restore forests and agricultural landscapes while advancing local communities’ needs. Africa has major potential for restoration, and 26 countries have already committed to restore more than 85 million hectares of degraded and deforested land through AFR100, a country-driven initiative that WRI helps to coordinate alongside the NEPAD Secretariat and other partners.

Cities: Africa is urbanizing faster than any other region. By 2030, more than half of Africans will live in cities, yet most of Africa’s urban infrastructure has yet to be built. The region can avoid costly mistakes made elsewhere and instead build compact, connected, coordinated cities— urban areas that that are resilient, inclusive, and productive job centers. WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities will engage with national policymakers, mayors and regional leaders to support sustainable urban growth, advise on national urban policies, and conduct training, technical assistance and analysis.

Water: Population growth and rising demands from agriculture, energy, manufacturing and urban centers are straining surface and groundwater supplies across Africa. Through WRI’s Aqueduct platform, we will offer private and public sector leaders locally relevant data, water risk maps and projections to manage water more effectively. WRI’s Water, Peace and Security Initiative will also provide analysis that evaluates and implements projects that address underlying challenges related to water stress, climate change, conflict, and migration.

“There is a renewed sense of optimism in Africa. African economies are growing faster and its population is younger than those in other continents. These trends can be key drivers of poverty reduction and improved livelihoods on the continent,” said Wanjira Mathai, Senior Advisor to the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) and Co-Chair of WRI’s Global Restoration Council. “There is recognition across Africa that continued growth will only be possible if food, water, and energy resources are managed sustainably. With its ability to bring people together, generate evidence-based analysis, and offer decision-relevant tools, WRI is well-positioned to catalyze and support pan-African partners in achieving sustainable development and livelihood improvement.”