African Governments Blamed For Environmental Disasters

Tervil Okoko, PANA Correspondent
NAIROBI, Kenya (PANA) - African governments came under heavy attack Friday for impoverishing their citizens through loans secured to resuscitate environments whose devastation have been caused either through negligence or greed amongst leaders to grab and own land.

The attack came from the Co-ordinator of Greenbelt Movement, Wangari Maathai, when she was speaking at the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi at the ongoing fifth Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

She attributed the current wave of drought and famine in parts of East, Central and Northern Africa to deforestation and persistent destruction of biodiversity by selfish authorities whose immediate needs have overridden ecological sense.

She pointed out Kenya's current electric power rationing problem has been caused by greed that has superseded reasoning.

"Kenyans are now reaping from what they sowed after destroying forests and tree canopies and encroaching on catchment areas with much abandon," she added.

She noted that Kenya was currently experiencing the electricity shortfall due to its dry and withered ecosystem that has led to the drying up of rivers and dams.

The drought situation was brought about by lack of forest cover because that has been depleted through human encroachment in areas that ought to have been conserved, she said.

"Now Kenyan government officials are raising hell over the electric power rationing but while Karura forest (catchment forest area 15 kilometres North of Nairobi) was being grabbed, they never raised a finger and they branded Wangari Maathai a mad woman when she made noise about it," she said referring to the longstanding battle she has waged to protest the annexation of the forest land that has been serving as Nairobi's ecological reservoir since the city was founded in 1898.

The environmental activist told Africans to wake up because they have been so willing to be abused by selfish leaders.

"It does not really matter very much what kind of legal mechanisms we come up with in these conventions and protocols currently being debated here.

"What matters is the commitment to these conventions and we must be seen to be practising what the convention says, no double standards," Maathai told PANA.

"African governments are always the first to sign international conventions. However, when it comes to implementation, they find themselves sandwiched between need and greed, and because they are always poor, they compromise what they have already committed themselves to just because a few of their leaders are greedy and corrupt," she added.

Maathai appealed to African governments to take matters pertaining to environmental protection seriously because some of the current world environmental problems do not have any known remedies.

"It is better we prevent than wait to cure our environment after a disaster because prevention is always better than cure," the deadlocked activist said.

She accused African leaders of adopting an ignorant attitude towards the environment and that is why the continent is currently facing diverse and unusual climatic conditions.

"It is a vicious cycle. When there is drought, there is no electricity and workers are laid off in industries, lands can't be cultivated, production goes down and the eventual end is poverty.

"The next step is that we go to the World Bank to borrow money for poverty alleviation. But we cannot alleviate poverty in the continent without first giving the environment the first priority. We must get to the root cause of the problem," she said.

Maathai told African governments to develop the political will towards biological diversity and accord it the respect and attention that it requires as the first step towards industrialisation and development.

"Environmentalists do not just voice concern for their own concern but for the whole humanity. It does not matter whether you live in Greenland, Alaska or the Cape of Good Hope.

"What we need here is concern and care for flora and fauna that support and enhances human life on planet earth," she said.

"Before too long, we are going to have a great famine in this continent and then somebody will bring in the genetically modified (GM) foods, and that will be the beginning of the end to the African continent," she added.

Asked what she feels about the GM foods, a topic that has caused a lot of heat not only at the ongoing Convention on Biodiversity (CB) but the world over, Maathai said it was not yet safe to avail such kinds of foods in supermarket shelves because more research needs to be done on their safety.

"Let us not experiment with human beings. We do not want another laboratory accidents like we had with AIDS, because if anything goes wrong, will the person who produced such a product pay the price, and at what rate.

"And if the price is paid, then I want to see who pays for AIDS," she added.

She said all the experiments and bad things happen to Africa because the continent has governments that are poor and do not take things seriously.

She gave an example of alien species introduced on the continent by the colonisers like eucalyptus trees, the Nile perch and the water hyacinth that have turned out to be monsters that are threatening the bio-safety of their new environments.

"When Nile perch was introduced in Lake Victoria, although it was an experiment, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said the project was meant to boost food production around the lake region.

"However, the Nile perch has decimated other small and yet very important natural species in the lake, thereby causing an ecological imbalance," she observed.

As a general rule, she says, Africa must be ready to put in place legal mechanisms that would protect its fauna and flora for the benefit of all humanity, and also bear responsibility whenever damage is done.

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