Our Role in This Universe Is to Borrow From the Future [column] (allAfrica.com)

It is often said that we borrow the earth from our future progeny rather than inherit it from our ancestors to use as we please.

If that maxim is true then, it should concern us how we use and conserve the earth, so that future generations will find it bearable to live in.

Science has made it possible for humanity to advance technology in a wide variety of human endeavours including health, agriculture and mining.

To this extent, in our daily lives, from our personal ablutions to all human activity aimed at earning our living here on earth is now dominated, in fact, dictated by use of chemicals, of which chemicals some are extremely harmful to our health and the environment.

A recent workshop organised by Fespege (Forum for Environment Sustainability, Poverty Eradication and Gender Equality) an NGO in Kenya, reminded participants of our role as gatekeepers in stemming the rapid descent of our world towards the continuous use, misuse of banned industrial chemicals and the need to take positive action to realise legal and policy actions are in place in Sub-Saharan Africa to give spur to this necessary movement.

In a workshop attended by participants from Community based NGOs from Uganda, Tanzania and host nation Kenya, Fespege coordinator, Susan Kabogo said it was actions from NGOs and community based organiations that inspire change.

Where change is required in the legal realms and in the manufacturing sectors, we are aware that this change will not be achieved from those very sectors principally because there are too many vested interests, said Ms Kabogo.

Situation reports from these three East African Countries point to a similarity of the conditions. According to the National Environment Management (NEM) report of way back in 1997, Tanzania faces challenges in six areas including land degradation due to the removal of woody vegetation at a higher rate than the ability to regenerate thereby causing a reduction in the quality of soil .

The other five areas that this NEM report cited were inadequate access to good quality water, with more than half of diseases resulting from water contamination or a lack of water for daily use;

  •  pollution of water, air and soil in the country due to solid waste, sewage, air emissions and noise in urban areas, and due to nutrient loading and agricultural chemicals in rural areas;
  •  loss of wildlife habitats and biodiversity resulting from poaching, increasing demand for agricultural land, pollution, invasive species and climate change;
  • degradation of marine and freshwater aquatic ecosystems due to industrial and agricultural effluents, over-fishing and unregulated tourism in coastal areas; and
  •  high rates of deforestation as a result of small scale mining, bush fires, and the uncontrolled cutting of wood for cooking, sale, building and other uses.

A close examination of these six core areas that endanger our health and the environment we live in will show that it is not just Tanzania which is in trouble. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi , South Sudan and pretty much the rest of the continent is at a heavy risk due to among other things lack of clear structures of governance and in other cases a lacuna in law which sets the precedence for ignorance and greed to thrive.

Tanzania’s National Implementation Plan which noted a number of other gaps in the country’s management of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), still remain:

  •  insufficient policies and legislation to address all aspects of managing and monitoring POPs, alternatives to POPs and liability for improper disposal of POPs waste and remediation of sites contaminated with POPs;
  • inadequate enforcement of existing legislation on management of POPs;
  • lack of guidelines on managing POPs waste and remediating sites contaminated with POPs;
  • weak capacity to document and monitor the impacts of POPs on human health and the environment; – lack of research on alternatives to intentionally produced POPs;
  • inadequate capacity to facilitate coordination and reporting on issues concerning POPs; and – lack of public information dissemination, education and awareness.

The main priorities for implementing the Stockholm Convention, as identified in Tanzania’s National Implementation Plan, are:

  •  the strengthening of legal and institutional frameworks for managing POPs and chemical pollutants;
  • the establishment of mechanisms to monitor POPs and other chemical pollutants;
  • the enhanced transfer of appropriate technologies to control POPs releases; and – the improvement of public information, awareness and education.

Tanzania’s National Implementation Plan commits to measures intended to strengthen legislative and regulatory control of POPs in a number of areas, along with other measures to strengthen capacity for implementing obligations.

Tanzania has committed to reviewing its existing legislation to ensure that it is consistent with the requirements of the Stockholm Convention in relation to the management of production, use, stockpiles and wastes of POPs pesticides.

In particular, it will review the Plant Protection Act to identify gaps in relation to the identification and quantification of stockpiles. Tanzania has committed to strengthening and introducing:

  • legal provisions governing POPs pesticides in relation to their production, screening, import, use and disposal; – legal provisions on the identification, liability, and management of contaminated sites;
  • enforcement mechanisms to promote safe handling and disposal of POPs pesticides, including liability for wastes and contaminated sites; and
  •  legal provisions to require efforts to promote public awareness about health and environmental risks of POPs pesticides. Tanzania will also introduce legal requirements to ensure monitoring of POPs pesticide releases and their effects to human and environment, as well as provisions to regulate the transport, fate and transformation of POPs pesticides in the environment.

The government intends to develop guidelines and mechanisms to promote proper management and control of stocks and stockpiles of POPs pesticides, wastes and contaminated sites.

Tanzania will also take measures to prevent unnecessary stockpiling of pesticides and illegal trafficking, and to improve the identification of pesticides with POPs characteristics, screening of candidate POPs pesticides, and research and development of alternatives to POPs pesticides.

Yet in all these citizen action through community based organisations and NGOs remains key.

The columnist, a Media consultant and researcher is a regular commentator on East African issues with interests in media development in the region.