Harare, Zimbabwe — The scale of environmental challenges that Zimbabwe and Africa faced in 2006 was huge with the environmental sector reeling from budget cuts, sprawling land development patterns, pollution, veld fires, poaching, toxic dumping to biodiversity loss and the consequences of global climate change.
Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent continued experiencing challenges in the management of the environmental inventory which included less visible resources and assets such as fresh air and the use of solar energy as an alternative source of power that does not damage the environment.
It is worrisome that Zimbabwe and most countries in Africa still lack effective technologies that control and reduce air pollutants emitted from motor vehicles, industry, food outlets, the agricultural sector and a whole array of other fuels — coal, paraffin, jet fuel and fuel wood.
Health experts say many people in Africa now suffer from respiratory, pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases as a result of lack of specific legal frameworks to deal with polluters as well as the technical know-how to effect controls.
The industrial sector still lacks emission-reduction machines and this has led to air pollution and unsafe levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide sulphur dioxide, lead and other oxides in sprawling urban areas across the continent.
Horticultural activities, sand blasting processes, industrial activities, cement and fertilizer manufacturing, quarries, the burning of e-waste – computers and other electronic gadgets dumped in Africa continues to worsen the levels of air pollution.
There is a growing use of ozone depleting substances that were identified as violating the Vienna Convention of 1985 and the Montreal Protocol of 1987. These ozone-depleting substances include carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform, carbon-fluoro carbons, methyl bromide and halons used in fire fighting.
Even though Zimbabwe and most other African countries ratified the protocols, methyl bromide is still widely used as a fumigant in agriculture and carbon tetrachloride is used in various industrial operations.
Meteorologists warn that owing to inconsistencies by African countries in the phasing out of the use of depleting substances, the delicate layer that protects all life on earth continues to wear off.
If this trend continues, unabated, they say more Africans will be exposed to sunburn, eye cataracts, skin cancers and immuno-suppression.
Ms Charlene Hewat of Environment Africa, an environmental organisation based in Zimbabwe, says communities are not playing their role in the fight against pollution hence the need for awareness campaigns before stringent measures are effected to deal with polluters.
Waste management remains one of the biggest problems facing Zimbabwe and most other African countries.
There is still a widespread lack of resources, the technical and administrative capacity to properly implement sound mechanisms for waste management across the continent.
Latest satellite images of Africa’s natural resources show that the continent is under an environmental assault of bigger proportions that could have debilitating consequences on livelihoods in future.
A United Nations Environment Programme atlas launched at a water conference held in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, indicates that Africa’s river basins, fresh water lakes, forests, coastal lagoons and wildlife sanctuaries are under siege from unsustainable exploitation.
The satellite images documented the shrinking of Lake Chad, the spread of water hyacinth in Lake Victoria, the destruction of rainforests, the deadly effects of oil spills and other major environmental changes on the continent’s ecosystem.
Cote d’ Ivoire paid a heavy price for lax controls after a toxic waste tragedy claimed 10 lives and affected more than 10 000 others.
This showed the damaging effects of toxic dumping in Africa in which industrialised nations dump highly toxic waste violating the Basel Convention on Trans-Boundary Movement of HazardousWaste.
Millions of used computers, televisions and other electronic gadgets – e-waste, are being dumped in Africa daily as the continent lacks the capacity to handle this type of waste.
Industrialised nations are running away from the harsh environmental laws in their own backyards and emptying toxic wastes in Africa, a development that now requires African countries to tighten their laws.
The Zambezi River, which supports livelihoods in eight Southern African countries, is now under threat from what environmentalists say is ecologicalmismanagement.
Water experts who met in Malawi in November expressed concern over how the river basin was being mismanaged through lack of monitoring, conservation and implementation of water conservation policies.
Water pollution remains problematic along the 2 700km river where aquatic weed infestation has devastated some parts of the river basin leading to loss of biodiversity.
Experts said unco-ordinated development interests, divergent approaches to planning and management, poor resource governance and conflicts over water and land resources are damaging the river.
These problems are becoming evident both in Zimbabwe’s internal river systems and elsewhere in Africa, along major rivers such as the Congo, Nile, Limpopo and many others in many parts of the continent.
Experts say there is need for a co-ordinated approach to manage Africa’s river systems to avert a serious crisis in future.
A deadly outbreak of a fish infection that still remains unidentified in December along the Zambezi River is threatening fresh water fish and biodiversity in southern Africa owing to unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.
The outbreak showed that the eight countries served by the Zambezi River have no capacity to identify or monitor fish and other animal diseases neither do they have fish pathologists to help identify deadly fish infections.
Victoria Falls, one of Seven Natural Wonders of the World, which sustains tourist activities in southern Africa is now under threat from pollution, poor waste management and rapid urbanisation owing to unco-ordinated conservation approaches.
The deadly fish infection outbreak has caused panic among people dependent of fishing along the Zambezi River.
Up to now, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi and Tanzania have not set up a commission to inquire into the deaths of fish owing to lack of resources, fish experts and commitment into the management of biological resources along the river.
Veld fires wreaked havoc for the most part of 2006 in Zimbabwe with thousands of hectares of grasslands and forests worth billions of dollars going up in smoke.
The fires also endangered the survival of wildlife that was already battling to survive owing to poaching activities, lack of pasture and water in some parts of Zimbabwe’s wildlife areas.
The Government, environmentalists and other stakeholders bemoaned the irresponsible and reckless destruction of Zimbabwe’s flora and fauna and called for stringent penalties for the culprits to prevent the ugly scourge of veld fires.
Despite pleas for co-operation and the implementation of strategies to curb the reckless burning of the forests and grasslands, fires raged on even more ferociously destroying property, wildlife, livestock and the country’s biological resources.
Lack of resources, and commitment by some Government departments and communities, poverty and lack of capacity by the Environmental Management Agency to monitor and implement programmes to manage veld fires worsened the situation, described by some as the worst since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980.
Without a permanent environmental force to monitor the outbreaks, a sustained awareness programme and the participation of communities, veld fires will continue to haunt Zimbabwe destroying property, wildlife, forests and grasslands and other biological resources.
Reports indicate that Zimbabwe lost 11 million hectares of land in 2004, more than 11,5 million hectares in 2005 and in 2006, environmentalists estimate that this had increased to more than 15 million hectares.
Desertification, the indiscriminate cutting down of trees, illegal mining activities, sand poaching, the dumping of litter, poaching of wildlife, the spread of water weeds and the rapid spread of genetically modified organism crops, the rampant exploitation of medicinal herbs by rich nations all affected efforts to provide a decent environment for Africans.
Despite the problems, governments and environmental activists held conferences, seminars, awareness programmes and supported a number of initiatives to try and conserve the environment.
The Clean Up campaigns, tree planting activities, tightening of regulations to curb illegal mining activities, the reckless dumping of litter, veld fires and other environmental activities all provide hope that Africa will stop at nothing to protect its environment.
Protecting the environment is a shared responsibility requiring the participation of everyone to ensure fresh air, water and land for the people.
Mapping tools to identify and manage environmental hazards are desperately needed in Africa despite the fact that the scope of environmental activism is broadening.
The overwhelming number of environmental problems is forcing Zimbabweans and Africans to re-think key issues such as increasing budgets for environmental activities that aim to support identification, monitoring and implementation of sound environmentalprogrammes.
There is need to create a compelling positive vision of the future and make people aware of their responsibilities when it comes to protecting the environment.
Zimbabwe and Africa cannot afford to lose their assets through degradation, reckless attitudes and lack of commitment to protecting what is truly theirs — the environment.
The year 2007 should see sustained efforts to protect the environment.