Analysis: FRANCIS MAKASA
IN A circular letter to the Roman Catholic Church released to the public in June 2015, Pope Francis calls for “an ecological
conversion” of Christians so that they can change their destructive habits and make the duty to protect God’s creation a virtue and not an option aspect of the Christian experience.
The circular, also known as Laudato si of the environment, portrays an accurate picture of the gluttonous manner in which God’s children have destroyed the environment and warns of catastrophe to befall the earth if human beings do not change their attitude and take action to be responsible stewards of the earth.
Genesis 2:15 tells us that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it”. This simply means that man has an obligation to protect the environment from which he derives benefits.
The destructive actions by human beings are visible throughout Zambia. Top on the list is the widespread deforestation which is driven by charcoal burning, clearing of large farmland, unsustainable traditional farming methods and rampant indiscriminate cutting of trees. Deforestation contributes to climate change as trees that trap excess carbon dioxide (the main gas that contributes to climate change) are depleted.
Pollution of land, air and water- driven especially by industries is extensively visible. Examples are lead contamination in Kabwe due to mining activities, water and air pollution on the Copperbelt due to waste disposal by the mining industry. Environmental pollution due to poor garbage disposal is widespread. Depletion of fish stocks in water bodies is due to unsustainable exploitation by use of unsuitable fishing methods.
Poaching has reached alarming proportions. To crown it all, the phenomenon of climate change is not natural but it is due to human destruction of the environment. Climate change with accompanying vagaries (such as droughts, unpredictable weather conditions and an increase in natural disasters) has potential to destroy the entire environmental fabric on which people’s livelihoods depend.
Apart from change of attitude, the Pope suggests a variety of practical solutions. These include adoption of measures such as afforestation (planting of trees), diversification to renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro and solar energies. Others are restocking of water bodies with fish and adopting sustainable fishing methods, as well as taking up fish farming. Pope Francis also suggests the adoption of soil and water conservation technologies in addition to diversifying economies from mining.
The Pope suggests better methods of garbage disposal and recycling of garbage material which can also create jobs. It is alarming that the use as well as the careless disposal of plastic material is rampant in Zambia. The pollution such material causes to the environment is devastating as it takes more than 450 years to decompose. It is no coincidence therefore that Rwanda, which boasts of having the cleanest capital city in Africa (Kigali), has banned the use of toxic plastics.
Farmers, who are among those guilty of assaulting nature, should consider clearing strips of land as opposed to clearing all the trees and natural vegetation. Instead of harvesting the entire tree for whatever purpose, people should consider sustainable harvesting of trees such as pruning and coppicing so that the tree can regenerate with time.
At the national level, Government should swiftly ensure that environmental issues are factored in pieces of legislation. Of major concern is the continued haphazard planning devoid of environmental concerns often exhibited by local government authorities. This leads to annual outbreaks of communicable diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
Another concern is the alleged failure by some industries, including mining firms, to comply with existing environmental laws and to own effective environmental policies to mitigate the negative effects of their operations. No wonder the country has recorded incidences of drinking water contamination by waste from mines both on the Copperbelt and in Sinazongwe district in Southern Province in recent years.
Government should switch to community natural resource management as opposed to relying on policing by state agents. This way, communities will cultivate a sense of ownership of the natural resources and will be encouraged to protect them.
Pope Francis’ environmental concerns are not only targeted at the Roman Catholic Church, but at each person because, as he says,” If we destroy nature, nature will destroy us all”.
The author is an agricultural and rural development expert.