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Home More Reflections Elephants in the room Linkages Zambian poverty is linked to environment

Zambian poverty is linked to environment

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On the face of it the economy is doing relatively well and Zambia's international partners are rewarding the government with measured accolades. Take away donor aid and income derived from copper and other sub-soil assets and the picture is not so good.

 

This idyllic, sub-tropical land is degrading fast- in our own lifetimes Zambia has lost a staggering proportion of her natural assets. Like many societies around the world, Zambians have been living off the natural resources making up for the failure of the economy to provide productive alternative incomes. Though a few isolated communities still live on a subsistence level and most are harvesting commercially to some degree. 

Wildlife, until a generation ago, an important sustainable part of people's everyday diet, has all but disappeared with both rural and urban supplies of bush meat now trickling in to markets from the last viable national parks.

Fish stocks have dwindled in drying, polluted rivers and streams leaving most Zambians desperately short of their staple protein. The massive network of wetland sponges (dambos) that slowly filter rainwater through the long dry season are ever less effective at controlling floods and groundwater levels are falling. 

Vast areas of forest have been turned into charcoal or cleared for agriculture after being gleaned for their most valuable hardwoods. With few large mammals to graze the savannas and grasslands, these habitats are being invaded by rank unpalatable grasses and thick woody bush which help intensify the bush-fires that scorch the continent from coast to coast, more widespread every year, drying the precious moisture that carries life through the long, hot dry season.

The loss of top-soil is highly visible in many parts of the country, notably in Eastern, Central  and Southern province where many waterways have silted up and no longer drain the countryside efficiently. When they do flow, rivers run brown carrying millions of tonnes of precious nutrients towards the distant oceans.

The majority of farmers know only of steadily declining crop yields and cattle owners are having to coping with lower carrying capacities despite catastrophic losses from runaway epidemics of bovine diseases. 

The effect of all this plunder is that ordinary people are much poorer and more desperate with frustration often spilling over to  violence, corruption and recklessness, behavior totally unfamiliar to the peaceful communal nature of the indigenous societies and threatening to the inherent stability of the social and political order. The symptoms are treated by the panicking leadership with increasing authoritarianism and disenfranchisement of the elctorate leaving them confused and defiant. In short, Zambia, like many sub-Saharan countries, is showing all the signs of rapid social, political and economic meltdown due ultimately to a collapsing environment.   

Whose to blame and how do we fix it? 

The mainstream global perception is that excessive carbon output from fossil fuel use in industrialised nations on the other side of the world is to blame for global warming which in turn is accelerating desertification and biodiversity loss in the tropics and Climate Change funds are being set up to help mitigate the situation. 

A growing global movement led by Dr Allan Savory counter that accelerating desertification, increasing carbon levels and climate change are one and the same, symptoms of biodiversity loss caused by poor decisions made by us humans throughout our ascendancy, not a new phenomenon that began with fossil fuel use but a fundamental error in the way we interact with nature. 

Regardless of which explanation one believes there is fortunately growing consensus especially at the grassroots that the extreme poverty being experienced by the majority of Zambians can be best mitigated by addressing environmental degradation. It is the tools we choose that will make or break a stable future.   

 The aim of ZambiaWild is to help assemble information and ideas on the technologies, best practices and linkages that might help Zambians make life-saving policy decisions. 

 

 
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