HomeEditorial CommentDamage to environment is a crime against peace

Damage to environment is a crime against peace

In the past week alone I have received very unsettling reports about veld fires that now seem to be the order of the day throughout the country. A friend driving from Nyanga over the weekend was almost driven to tears seeing all those beautiful forests in the area crackling like twigs in the hellfire of yet another avoidable catastrophe.

Report by Nevanji Madanhire
Another friend also called to say that the frequency of man-caused veld fires was a sign that our people did not fully comprehend the destruction veld fires caused to our ecosystems. My friends reminded me of a piece I wrote back in May on the importance of including clauses that criminalise wanton destruction of the environment in the constitution.

In the article I argued: “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 must say when I wrote this I had not come across the term ecocide. This week a friend commenting on the veld fires alerted me to the existence of the word.

“Ecocide is the extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.”

There is a whole global movement aimed at stopping the extensive damage to the environment and people’s lives by campaigning to make ecocide the fifth international crime against peace. The ecocide lobby was escalated in March 2010 when Polly Higgins, an international barrister and award-winning author, proposed to the United Nations that ecocide be made an international crime against peace.

Her campaign, and that of like-minded people, is that, “there are currently four crimes against peace: genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. Ecocide is the missing fifth crime — it is a crime against humanity, against current and future generations, and against all life on Earth.”

I have argued that 10 years from now elections in Zimbabwe and the rest of the developing world will be fought and won on the environment. The parties that can articulate their programmes on how to maintain our environment, and hence our own survival as a nation, will come to the fore. In other words environment issues will set “regime-change agendas”.

The emergence of Green movements around the globe in the past three or so decades should not be dismissed contemptuously as being of nuisance value simply because their presentations in parliaments is still weak. Their beliefs will begin to come to the fore when the world begins to realise how important the issue 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 practise 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. 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 are 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 political matrix will soon 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 worthwhile 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, bringing instability. People in the southern regions of Zimbabwe, called  ecological regions 3, 4 and 5, because of scarce 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 due to unsustainable agricultural practices they will begin to push northward. The environment automatically becomes a national stability issue.

Unfortunately the desertification is now 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 aided by veld fires.

Many more other threats to our environment exist. These include overgrazing and over-cultivation of the land. But even more devastating is the destruction brought about by veld fires.

It is interesting that Zimbabwe has become seized with the global fad of the politics of climate change. What should concern Zimbabweans now is their responsibility towards their own environment and whether they can bring their government to account regarding tangible environment issues. The country needs leadership in this which is painfully lacking among those who hold elective office because they are mostly preoccupied with selfish issues of political survival.

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