A Conundrum: Cyclone Idai, Deforestation and Metal Straws

For the past few weeks, parts of the African continent have been feeling the ripple effects of Cyclone Idai. The tempestuous tropical storm that ripped through Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique has made headlines over the loss of many lives as well as the imminent dangers of Climate Change and climate disasters. This inevitably ignites the spark which opens up the conversation on environmental degradation and contributing practices within the continent.

I came across an article on AllAfrica.com which was entitled ‘Mozambique: How Rampant Deforestation Made Mozambique More Vulnerable To Cyclone Idai’

As the title of the article suggests, it is put forwards that the effects of the cyclone, like floods and landslides, were due to amplified levels of deforestation in the region. It is said that in the past 25 years Mozambique has seen between 10 and 15 percent of forest degradation, the article attributes the loss of Mozambican flora to ‘illegal logging and charcoal production’.

The direction of this narrative tickled me slightly, in an uncomfortable way. It occurred to me that the narrative of the article was focused on highlighting aspects of deforestation (illegal logging and charcoal production) that were likely to be linked to the working class Mozambican/’native’ demographic.

With that being put forward I cannot stress the importance in taking a few minutes to critically engage with and asses the narratives that are being pushed and promoted in the media and elsewhere, really.

I agree that deforestation, for charcoal & timber, or for local crafts like baskets and wooden sculptures, by mostly small/medium forest enterprises and individuals in Mozambique have a cumulative impact on climate patterns in the Southern Africa but what I don’t agree with is the direction of the single story narrative which fails to outline or most times even acknowledging the role that the West has played in creating most of environmental conditions that ACTUALLY trigger climate disasters like Cyclone Idai.

Accountability and subsequent Damage Control on the part of “developed” regions in the world, for their massive contribution to the shitstorm that is the earths current meteorological patterns, through their industrialisation processes needs to be set in motion. Fuck a metal straw (not really, they’re great and better than plastic ones), where are the policy/systematic changes?

In today’s ecopolitical climate Western nations are currently being seen as pioneers of the green movement. They simultaneously shame and condemn The Global South for not instating environmental policy changes or for continuing to allow traditional practices, like the use of charcoal or the crafting of cultural or local ornaments. This approach in dissecting the world’s environmental issues sidelines the Wests’ own involvement and contribution to rapid climate change and climate disasters like Cyclone Idai.

Agreed, that there is need for African governments to pay more attention to the regulation of the chopping down of trees and the instatement of sustainable policies within our region. The Greenbelt Movement is an indigenous, grassroots NGO (founded by Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Mathaai) which I see as viable framework for a set of sustainable environmental policies that African Governments could adopt.

The movement was in response to the outcries of Kenyan women in the rural areas who were affected by effects of climate change. For example, their streams were drying up which affected their food production and thus their ability to provide for their families. The movement not only worked to eliminate short term problems, by promoting the planting of seedlings, the storage of rainwater and more sustainable farming methods but also worked to eliminate deeper and more complex long term issues of disenfranchisement. For example accessible environmental education, provided through community empowerment programmes, to encourage critical thinking and thus the realisation of political, economic and social agency or the lack of. Agency is one of the foundational steps in gaining freedom and autonomy as well as reaching high levels of inclusive development.

Climate change within Africa impacts mostly the people who are already subject to the harshest conditions of poverty, in its many manifestations it exacerbates their condition. Therefore there is immediate need for sustainable policies to be drafted and put into place, both by Western Governments, as a move towards reconciling past errors, and by African Governments as a move to securing a viable future for African people.

Macoma, Mozambique April 27, 2019 by Saviano Abreu

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