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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Yes, Mme Minister, conservation is sound business management

9th September 2012
Editorial Cartoon

The UN development agency UNDP is reported to have posted some Tsh 17billion into Tanzania coffers to facilitate conservation of the country’s beautiful coastak resources and Mt Kilimanjaro.

This facility from UNDP’s Sustainable Land Management Programme is a welcome gesture indeed. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and fourth highest of the Seven Summits, is not just considered the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, but it’s also home to all of the world’s climatic zones from the tropical savanna on its lower reaches, rainforest, the alpine zone midway, the moorlands at higher altitudes and the cold desert at the peak.

Rising to an imposing 15,100 feet (4,600 meters) from base to summit, the Kilimanjaro has since become the signature-tune of the country’s tourism industry even though we have to point out that its real potential fortunes are often misplaced and better exploited by more aggressive salesmen from our neighbours in Kenya.

But we digress. The significance of the Kilimanjaro lies in its beauty as it does in its economic importance; in its creation, the mountain is almost a work of art, with three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo 19,340 feet (5,895 meters); Mawenzi 16,896 feet (5,149 meters); and Shira 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).

Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim. Few features can rival this giant, free-standing mountain, which scientists say started forming a million years ago when lava spilled from the Rift Valley zone then built by successive lava flows.

Today, some measure of human intervention has carved out the Kilimanjaro National Park spanning 756 sq km, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the few places on earth that encompasses every ecological life zone including tropical jungle, savannah, and desert to montane forests, sub-alpine plants, and the alpine zone above timberline.

Yet there is now cause to worry, and hence the need to take measures to conserve this world heritage. The snowcap on Kibo peak -- right in the middle of tropical Africa and at the centre of world attention is now thinning, and scientists estimate that the glaciers have shrunk 82% since 1912 and declined 33% since 1989.

There are also fears that the Kilimanjaro could be ‘ice free’ within 20 years, dramatically affecting local drinking water, crop irrigation, and hydroelectric power. Setting politics apart, this is true for Tanzania as it is for neighbouring Kenya. So any conservation efforts would make little headway at the local level.

It is against such backdrop that the Minister of State (Vice President’s Office, Environment), Dr Terezya Huvisa, has called our attention to the need for conserving the mighty Kilimanjaro – along with is all-important resource, which we often take for granted.

Equally neglected are the country’s beautiful beaches now under serious threat from progressive erosion, notably along Ocean Road, Kivukoni, parts of Zanzibar, Rufiji, Bagamoyo and Pangani.

While the Kilimanjaro sustains the local economy and allows local people to reap the rewards of tourism, the sea is, on the other hand, a major source of livelihood among coastal communities in these areas.

But here, too, there is serious cause for worry: beach-lines are progressively eating into once dry coastal lands. In areas across the Kigambani creek, beach erosion has advanced up to 100 metres inland over the past hundred short years.

The situation is much the same in Bagamoyo. At a spot next to the Millennium Beach Resort, a fig tree stood a safe from the sea less than a decade ago; today, only its scraggy remains stand forlornly at low tide; at high tide, it’s right under the water.

Climate change, we might say, is at work both on Mt Kilimanjaro and at the beaches. But we err; there’s a strong human hand defining both scenarios.

At sea, unsustainable fishing methods such as dynamite detonations which kill fish indiscriminately; while increasing pesticide use on the lower reaches of the Kilimanjaro have virtually killed off the black bees, unique to that montane ecosystem. And the list could go on.

As one Swedish ecologist once said, it’s time to turn – because sustainable development is not just idle talk; it is possible.

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