By Br. Alfonce Kugwa*
As the rate of environmental degradation continues to escalate in Zimbabwe and elsewhere with serious implications on flora, fauna and marine life, humanity must take immediate action to avoid further damage to our common habitat. Pope Francis in his Encyclical Laudato Si’ says: “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” Pope Francis’ message has inspired the Catholic Professionals Network of Zimbabwe who decided to do their bit for the environment.
Catholic laity and environmental management
The Pope’s reflection reveals that humanity is responsible for the destruction of the environment and that it is through human effort that the same environment can be conserved.
As part of its contribution towards environmental management, the Zimbabwe Catholic Commission for the Laity (ZCCL) through the Catholic Professionals Network of Zimbabwe (CPNZ) have embarked on a Laudato Si’ campaign that seeks to encourage society to protect the environment. The project that is supported by the Apostolic Nunciature encourages people to practice environmentally friendly ways in every business venture.
Thus, in the spirit of Laudato Si’ Zimbabwe’s Catholic laity put together a project that focuses on commemorating and publicizing Laudato Si’ while at the same time encourage environmental management. The project involves encouraging Zimbabweans but especially young children and the youth to spearhead and take part in activities that involve caring for the environment in their communities, wherever they are in Zimbabwe. There are several practices that degrade the environment such as cutting trees, illegal mining, burning bushes, littering surroundings with paper and plastics and so on. The campaign seeks to discourage these. Young people are encouraged through the campaign to do their bit in keeping clean their environment even when other people litter.
Connecting the Gospel with environmental wellbeing
The Zimbabwe Catholic Commission for the Laity (ZCCL) Coordinator, Fr. Johane Maseko said the campaign was meant to bring awareness about Laudato Si’ and encouraged living the connection between environmental wellbeing and the gospel. Further still, by linking the project constantly to Laudato si’ the hope is that interest in the document will be cultivated and people might be curious enough to read the document for themselves.
“This project is meant to empower people to ‘till and keep the paradise’ of our environment. The thrust is to help people to understand the nexus between taking care of the environment and prayer as alluded to by Pope Francis who said, ‘to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.’” said Fr. Maseko.
Losing forests to illegal mining
With poverty and unemployment leading young people into illegal mining and other illicit ways of income generation, there is great environmental damage due to unorganized mining activities and deforestation. Forests are haphazardly cleared as “makorokoza” (illegal miners) scramble for the precious metal, Gold. They dig everywhere and anyhow, where they think they can get Gold. A visit to places like Kwekwe, Gokwe, Kadoma, Bindura, Mazowe, Mberengwa and others is an eye-opener on how the environment is being endangered. One would wonder if there is a future at all.
“We are forced into this situation because of poverty. We are unemployed. In actual fact, there is no employment. We have families that need food and the only means of survival is to come kumakomba (illegal mines) to look for gold. We have concern for the environment but there is nothing we can do,” said one artisanal miner in the outskirts of Kadoma.
Overpopulated cities have consequences
The love for money has also contributed to the destruction of the environment. The haphazard or slapdash apportionment of land by land barons for business and residential stands in urban areas has seen structures mushrooming in wetlands and other undesignated places.
Urban migration has resulted in the overpopulation of cities. This in turn has compromised and complicated hygiene standards for most urban areas in Zimbabwe. There is very little being done to upgrade the water and sanitation facilities. The upsurge in outbursts of sewer pipes, erratic supply of water and the sprawling of litter everywhere is cause for concern for the urbanites. It is from this background that the church through its laity seeks to curb the menace of environmental pollution in the country.
The laudato si’ campaign
With this campaign, the Church seeks to conscientize communities on the need to prioritize conservation of the environment by protecting the forests, wetlands, water bodies, wildlife and the ozone layer. The call also encourages the planting of trees, proper treatment and recycling of litter and to stop the throw-away culture that contaminates the environment and leads to climate change.
* Director of the ZCBC Social Communications Commission