What have we humans done which has benefitted the earth? The carbon dioxide we breathe benefits trees to a certain extent and our bodies put nutrients back into the soil when buried. Otherwise, this supposedly successful species has left a trail of destruction behind it and boldly continues to abuse the God given treasures and custodians of the earth.

Unlike Douglas Adam’s take in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that rats rule the world, trees and plants (including algae) are the real custodians of the earth. They regulate rainfall and temperature by enabling evaporation which becomes rain, they hold top soil together, feed the fungus which enrich and keep soils healthy and alive and prevent flooding. They supply endless other products to humans in the way of fruit, cereal, mushrooms, cloth, material to build houses and furniture, food for animals for humans to eat and the list goes on. So why do we keep destroying the source of the very roots of our survival?

Zambia is sadly one of the (if not the) fastest deforesting countries in the world. It is losing between 300,000 and 400,000 hectares of forest per year and only has about 50 percent forest cover remaining.

Zambia is sadly one of the (if not the) fastest deforesting countries in the world. It is losing between 300,000 and 400,000 hectares of forest per year and only has about 50 percent forest cover remaining. At the present rate of loss, with adjustments according to the population increase, in two generations (60 years’ time) only 10 percent of Zambia will be covered by forest. Zambian woodland is under siege. Not even the Protected Forest Areas (PFAs) are secure. Between 2004 and 2017, 216,921.2 hectares of PFAs have been degazetted or excised and many more hectares have been lost protected since then. In 2017 only 1,359,871 hectares out of Zambia’s total land area of 75,261,800 hectares were intact within the protected areas. PFAs were demarcated for strategic reasons, degazetting and excising them and deforesting the rest of the country is a threat not only to the future of Zambia’s water and power resources, but also a threat to some of Zambia’s neighboring countries’ water and electricity supply as they depend on the forests in Zambia to protect the sources of their major rivers. As Zambia’s population leaps well past 17 million, the clearing of land is catastrophic to the forest cover and the warning bells are getting louder.

Lusaka, is a glaring example. Once a garden city with four protected forests (Numbers 26, 27, 28 and 55), which the planners referred to in their old city council documents as the “lungs of Lusaka”. Apart from aesthetic and recreational purposes, the protected forest areas were planned in areas known as recharge zones. Lusaka is built on dolomite which is porous, characterised by underground chambers and streams rather than surface water and streams. This is why Lusaka residents (2.5 million+) depend so heavily on boreholes to pump water from underground for their water supply. For these underground aquifers to be recharged they need open land and forest for the water to seep underground to ensure that the level of underground water is sufficient to supply water to the Lusaka population.

Despite these vital protected areas being put in place in the 1950s for the above reasons, Forest Reserves 26, 28 and 55 have been cleared for housing, industry, shopping malls and charcoal. Well-meaning members of the public continue to fight for the restoration of Forest 27, which is the latest and last of these protected forests to be earmarked for development. We are clearing trees and spreading concrete, we have questionable water quality in some areas, inefficient garbage disposal and seasonal flooding. During the wet season our cities become synonymous with “Water everywhere but nothing to drink.”

What other species destroys the things they depend on for the survival of future of their offspring? In destroying our own habitat we are handicapping future generations of our own species and wiping out many others. Research led by Dr. Thomas Couvreur of the French National Institute for Sustainable Development (2019) concludes that a third of African plants face extinction.

It is essential to seriously take stock of the damage done and determine how we are going to protect, restore and recover Zambia’s natural heritage and wellbeing for future generations. Do we really want to be ashamed to be human and regret destroying a garden city?

How do we prevent this? We need to stop clearing forests and restore our precious woodlands, use more eco-friendly alternatives to charcoal, cherish and celebrate our beautiful bush and everything it brings and allow Zambia’s excellent laws to be unleashed. This, of course, is much easier said than done. Zambia’s unspoilt and spectacular areas of forest also need to be harnessed with extra protection from international bodies like UNESCO. Zambia’s forests are too precious for us to destroy. Instead, as proud Zambians, let us celebrate Zambia’s treasures. Our future wellbeing depends on it.

*Lari Merrett is co-author of the Field Guide to the (Wetter) Zambian Miombo Woodland.

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