HomeEditorial CommentEditor's Desk:Let’s give due priority to the environment

Editor's Desk:Let’s give due priority to the environment

The emergence of “Green parties” around the globe in the past three or so decades should not be dismissed contemptuously as being of nuisance value simply because their presence in parliaments is still weak. Their beliefs will begin to come to the fore when the world begins to realise how important the issues of the environment are for the very existence of humanity. Green parties’ main focus is environmentalism. The Green Party of the United States, for example, has as one of its major tenets what it calls “ecological wisdom”: “Human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature; not separate from nature. We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. We support a sustainable society which utilises resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation. To this end we must practice agriculture which replenishes the soil; move to an energy efficient economy; and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems.”

Zimbabweans should begin to think in a similar manner. We have not placed the environment in its proper place in our country’s political matrix. The environment is still a peripheral issue in determining how our country should be governed. This is despite the fact that our very delicate environment is a constant threat to national stability.
Presently, Zimbabwean politics is based on the following template: Independence-Sovereignty-Values (of our liberation struggle). Although this is an important perspective that ensures our nationhood is properly grounded, it becomes too backward-looking as the world changes at breakneck speed and the environment takes up an ever more important role in defining a nation’s wellbeing

When our politics troughs out of the stage it finds itself in now, the template will change to something like: Independence-Governance-Environment.

A country can no longer continue to talk about sovereignty or territorial integrity without talking about the environment. Territorial integrity is about borders; we can defend borders but if the borders surround a desecrated environment they might not be worth defending.

Zimbabwe has always been under the threat of desertification as the Kalahari Basin encroaches into most countries in southern Africa including Zimbabwe. Indeed, almost two-thirds of Zimbabwean soils are already beginning to show characteristics of Kalahari sands — powdery, reddish and infertile.

As desertification sets in — food gets scarcer and scarcer in the farming areas — people migrate towards the green areas which they see as oases and rural-urban drift intensifies. Imagine the instability that goes with people moving into areas — already populated — where they see their Canaan? The competition for resources becomes fierce, spawning instability. People in the southern regions of Zimbabwe, called ecological regions 3,4 and 5, because of sparse rain and poor soils, are already beginning to complain that the land reform programme kept them away from the wet regions in the Mashonaland provinces. As their areas become ecologically worse off due to unsustainable agricultural practices, they will begin to push northward. The environment automatically becomes a national stability issue.

Unfortunately desertification is now, interestingly, creeping from north to south too. The regions which constitute our bread basket — that is regions 1 and 2 —are also experiencing man-made desertification as deforestation rises.

Many of the farms that changed ownership during the land reform programme are now the major sources of firewood for cities and towns as these continue to experience power problems due to insufficient generation of electrical energy.

One only has to watch in the evenings as truckloads of firewood roll into Harare. In the next 10 years the Mashonaland provinces may well be as barren as the worst parts of the southern provinces if the unbridled deforestation continues. Add to this, the gold panning taking place all round the country. Recently gold was discovered on Heinz Farm near Chinhoyi, within days the farm had been laid to waste as people from all walks of life, including security forces, joined the gold rush.

Two things emerged from the Heinz Farm experience: The people’s hunger for resources and        their potential to destroy the environment; and the supine response by the government and law enforcement agencies.

Many more other threats to our environment exist. These include overgrazing and over-cultivation of the land. For far too long wealth among African communities has been measured by the number of animals a family possessed. This tradition has not changed with the growth in population meaning more people are acquiring more beasts and competing for finite pastures. Interestingly, even those who have been settled in areas suitable only for cropping have brought their beasts to the farms upsetting the  ecological balance of the environment.

While the constitution-making process is still on, can what goes in it be influenced by the grave concern about the environment? Can the issue of the environment be elevated above a mere right, to make it a governance issue equal to sovereignty and democracy? Is it possible to place the sustained and systematic destruction of the environment among crimes against humanity such as genocide and forcible transfer of population?

I have received a lot of flak whenever I have confessed that I am a climate-change sceptic. Whatever the veracity of research behind this, it has become more of a distraction in developing countries than a real environment issue.

What should concern Zimbabweans now is whether they can bring their government to account regarding tangible environment issues and whether they can educate the people on day-to-day threats to the environment without overly being seized with the politics of climate change.

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