A friend of mine recently posted a statement in the facebook, “My grandfather saw clean water in rivers, I have seen it in the buckets, but my son sees it only in bottles, where will grandson see it?” This same concern was raised by Pope St. John Paul II in his official statement, “We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the wellbeing of future generations.”
Reuters, an international news agency on 22 March 2010 quoting Gerald Sawula, an official of National Environmental Management Authority said, “Pollution in parts of Lake Victoria is worsening so fast that soon it may be impossible to treat its waters enough to provide drinking water for the Ugandan capital… It is a real crisis, the water has turned completely green with algae blooms swamping the whole place.”
Gerald Sawula continued to lament, “The water has become so thick from effluent that is being discharged directly into the lake because the wetlands that used to filter it have all been destroyed by developers. Fisheries experts say heavy concentrations of pollutants are killing certain fish species.
“As more algal blooms, phosphates, nitrates, heavy metals and fecal matter all pile into the lake, it’s going to be harder and harder to clean the water.” Speaking about the chemical pollution on this vital water body another report said, “As more algal blooms, phosphates, nitrates, heavy metals and fecal matter all pile into the lake, it’s going to be harder and harder to clean the water; It’s very obvious that in future the National Water and Sewerage Corporation won’t be able to treat water from Lake Victoria to a level safe enough for domestic consumption.”
Again the local daily New Vision reported that the utility was considering extending intake pipes far out into the lake as pollution near the shore exceeds treatable levels. Development analysts say the pollution problem will only worsen as Kampala’s population, estimated at 2.5 million, expands fast, straining its fragile and perennially underfinanced waste-handling capacity.
Though we cannot cost estimate the environmental degradation, the following estimation is found in an internet article, “The costs of environmental degradation and loss to Uganda’s economy with particular reference to poverty eradication.” Surely in monetary terms this huge money value is a big loss to a developing country like Uganda. These figures are equal to budget allocation for several ministries of the government.
|Biodiversity loss||UShs 506 billion/year|
|Degradation of soil resources||UShs 225 billion/year|
|Rangeland degradation||UShs 815 million/year|
|Wetlands encroachment||UShs 2 billion/year|
|Water hyacinth pollution||UShs 870 million/year|
|Contamination of water systems||UShs 38 – 61 billion/year|
At this juncture we cannot forget environmental “crimes” committed through deforestation, poaching of endangered animals, over use and unhealthy disposal of non-degradable materials such as plastics, and the like. All these can be termed, “a culture of waste” that reflects our thoughtless, inconsiderate and selfish way of life. Indeed it is the culture of death.
It is needless to say that Ugandan economy and sustenance ordinary people largely depend on environment and natural resources. We are all the beneficiaries of the rich natural resources that this country is endowed with. Nearly 15 years ago a research findings submitted by Yakobo Moyini and Eugene Muramirs of Environmental Management Associates (EMA) reported that Consumer surplus from gorilla tourism is US$1.72 million a year and the value of pharmaceutical use of forests is US$ 1.15 million a year. Uganda’s rich biodiversity and the natural resources is the basis of food, fuel and source of all other income. Uganda’s agricultural, art and crafts and mining sectors are directly dependent on the environment and natural resource base. Now destroying the water bodies, cutting down trees, damaging the soil, and disrupting the wildlife means destroying our own livelihood. It is choosing the ‘culture of death’.
On January 1, 1990 on the celebration of the World Day of Peace the saintly pontiff Pope John Paul II gave a comprehensive message on environment, “The Ecological Crisis a Common Responsibility”. It was basically an invitation to live in peace with oneself, with God and with the whole creation. The Holy Father said, “Many ethical values, fundamental to the development of a peaceful society, are particularly relevant to the ecological question. The fact that many challenges facing the world today are interdependent confirms the need for carefully coordinated solutions based on a morally coherent world view.”
Destruction of forests for example creates several other problems such as loss of rain and confused weather patterns, climate change, dislocation of people and wildlife, soil erosion, negative impact on tourism, disruption of biodiversity, fuelling of division and hatred among different groups of people and many more.
On 2nd March NTV telecasted a news item where it is reported that people of Busitema (near Busia) are destroying the forest by cutting down trees because baboons are using trees as their habitat and destroying the crops. It should be noted that the problem lies with people rather than the baboons; it is people who are encroaching the habitat of the baboons rather than baboons encroaching on them.
We all need to ask, do we have the right to pollute the air and the water? Are we right in killing animals? How long can we continue to cut down trees? A deeper look into these questions will reveal that we are largely selfish in engaging in this egocentric activities. We only think about our immediate current need. We fail to think of the wellbeing of next generations who will also need to share the resources of the world after us. That is the divine mandate and order of nature.
As Christians and people of goodwill we need to respect the original divine (that is, God-like) goodness of creation. Pope Benedict XVI says, “In nature, the believer recognises the wonderful result of God’s creative activity… The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility…” We should respect “the intrinsic balance of creation”. In other words, we should not engage in “reckless exploitation” of the air, water or land or needless disruption of the natural world. (Caritas in Veritate, # 48).
Secondly, God who made us in ‘His own likeness’ has given us a special role in Creation; to be co-creators and to be stewards of his handiworks. Our special divine likeness comes with a special gift – God gives people authority over the plants, the animals and everything He has created. In much the same way we have been made to serve God, animals, plants and the rest are made to serve people. Destroying them would be self-serving, being selfish and being thoughtless of people who will be sharing the earth after us.
Ecology and Our Christian Call
Ecology is study of natural science teaching us to care for the earth and keeping a balance in nature. Perhaps the first ever written statements on nature comes from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. The Creation myth in the book of Genesis has many lessons that teach us to care for the earth. Before creating man God created a beautiful world where he could live a comfortable life. Living comfortable life also requires to care for the earth that sustains our life. Caring for the earth is being part of human. We need to care for the earth because it cares for us and it provides for us. Not to care for the earth and destroying it is to destroying our own livelihood and sustenance.
We are blessed with the Pontiff who is down to earth. Pope Francis has practical solutions to the problems of the world. Concerned about the environmental degradation he has this to say, “One of the greatest challenges of our time, a challenge that is theological, as well as political in nature… when I look at so many forests, all cut, that have become land, that can no longer give life, this is our sin, exploiting the earth. This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation.” And the pontiff isn’t stopping there; he is reportedly planning to issue an encyclical, or papal letter, about man’s relationship with the environment.
Probably it one of the strongest statement issued by a religious (and social) leader calling for the people of good will to work towards protecting the environment. According to him the protecting the nature is urgent, the degradation is a catastrophe of great magnitude, it is politically a blunder and theologically a sin. He invites all of us to believe and act in a way that “Every tree, every pond, every member of every species is unique and special to God.”
The following statements of Pope Francis are thought provoking and calling us to act with commitment:
“Take good care of creation. St. Francis wanted that. People occasionally forgive, but nature never does. If we don’t take care of the environment, there’s no way of getting around it.” (One of Pope Francis’ first Audience April 22, 2013)
“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.” (Papal Audience May 21, 2014)
The effective struggle against global warming will only be possible with a responsible collective answer, that goes beyond particular interests and behaviour and is developed free of political and economic pressures … On climate change, there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act … The establishment of an international climate change treaty is a grave ethical and moral responsibility. (Pope’s Message to UN Convention on Climate Change, December 11, 2014)
Let us make the ancient prayer today’s cry, “O Lord, Send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”