By Chelsea Jones
In today’s world, issues of sustainability exist everywhere, but nowhere are these issues more pressing than in developing and Third World nations. In response to this situation, students from Miami University, as well as University of Cincinnati, University of Toledo, Xavier University, and Earlham College gathered on Saturday Nov. 10 to participate in the 2nd Annual Pan-African Conference organized by Miami’s African Student Union.
This year’s theme asked teams of students from each university to develop an action plan regarding three aspects of future sustainability on the African continent: education, public health, and food sustainability. Participating teams were given, prior to the conference, a fictional country and hypothetical situation based on real-life conditions and problems in Africa today around which to prepare the context of their action plan. Teams then gave a presentation explaining their solutions for each situation based on research and data from modern Africa.
Certain topics within each category came to the forefront during presentations as being particularly important to future sustainability in Africa. Among these were ending government corruption, increasing the length of compulsory education for children, especially females, raising awareness on the spread of AIDS and waterborne illnesses through the environment, and, of particular interest as far as environmental protection, fighting desertification and water scarcity in Africa due to overuse and depletion of resources.
Miami University entered three teams in the conference, with the first presenting on reforming education within the hypothetical country of “Saaraya” and the second team presenting on managing food security in the country of “Sinaland.” After presenting their ideas, teams were given feedback from a board of panelists containing faculty members and field experts from the various universities. Miami faculty among the panelists included Dr. Babacar Camara, current advisor to the African Student Union and professor of Black World Studies, as well as Dr Mary-Jane Berman, director of the Center for American & World Cultures, among others.
The different groups recognized the important role that education and public health plays in both spreading awareness of the cause of environmental problems and preventing human contamination of the environment. Apart from the spread of the AIDS epidemic, the threat of food insecurity poses the greatest threat to Africa. According to the National Resources Conservation Service, desertification, or the process by which land loses its ability to grow plants, affects 46% of Africa, or about 485 million people.
The work that the university students put into developing strategies for the conference can be easily translated into real, professional plans to combat these problems in modern day Africa. The Miami African Student’s Union looks forward to continuing the annual tradition of the conference in order to challenge students to think of creative ways to combat environmental issues internationally.