By Lilian Kiefer
High environmental degradation is one of the key developmental challenges facing Zambia today. This is because rural livelihoods are largely natural resource based. High poverty levels lead to the majority of citizens over-depending on the environment for livelihoods, making the environment unable to adequately renew itself to ensure sustainability. This has resulted in depletion of renewable natural resources which could have been preserved with effective sustainable environmental management practices.
The Government of Zambia acknowledges soil/land degradation, deforestation, wildlife depletion, water pollution and inadequate sanitation, air pollution in the Copperbelt towns as the key environmental problems that Zambia needs to address to ensure environmental sustainability. To tackle these challenges, the Government put in place a number of policies, structures and programmes such as the National Conservation Strategy of 1985, the National Environmental Action Plan (1994), the Environmental and Pollution Control Law, among others. However, the impact of these progressive provisions has been minimal on the ground.
One of the main shortfalls of the current Environmental and Natural Resources Management strategies is the lack of effective community engagement and participation in the conceptualisation and implementation of the strategies. This results in ineffective top-down responses with limited adoption at community level. Considering that some of the causes of environmental degradation are a result of livelihood human activity, leaving out the community in the conceptualisation, design and implementation of response strategies is a sure way to fail as it compromises the impact. Local communities require empowerment to diversity into alternative sources of sustainable livelihood and poverty reduction strategies, positive sustainable usage of environment and natural resources for livelihoods, and application of conservation principles.
Examples of key environmental challenges that require effective citizen engagement are:
While the Zambia environment management strategies have adopted the Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) approach which is driven by the principle of community participation, the actual implementation has been superficial and in some cases non-existent. Community members have remained on the periphery of Environmental and Natural Resource Management Programmes resulting in top-down approaches and strategies with limited uptake of at local community level, and low impact.
At Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), we are motivated by the need for effective community engagement and involvement in Environment and Natural Resource Management to foster positive change. Effective community engagement on this issue must start from policies and laws which then translate into programmes and strategies with supporting institutions for implementation.
Starting 2016, PSAf will be working on a project that seeks to address the problem of limited and ineffective community involvement and engagement in Environment and Natural Resource Management. This intervention aims at improving environmental sustainability in Zambia by engaging effective community involvement and participation in environmental sustainability programmes.