President Jakaya Kikwete and Vice-President Dr Mohammed Gharib Bilal have warned that the country faces critical environmental challenges from man-made activities that have impacted negatively on the climate.
The President told a rally in Moshi marking the International Environment Day on Tuesday that there was an alarming rate of tree harvesting, threatening the country’s future.
He pointed out that human actions were to blame, but also their responsibility to exert concerted efforts to protect water sources, river banks and forests from destruction.
A similar message was sent out by Dr Bilal when launching activities for the World Environment Week in Moshi, which is being nationally celebrated in Kilimanjaro region.
He warned of the receding snow cap on the highest mountain in Africa due to global warming and rampant tree harvesting around its slopes and loss of biodiversity in such places as Lake Jipe, which was getting covered by water lilies.
Leonidas Gama who is the Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner said invasion of forest reserves had increased as criminals illegally harvested forest products, including cutting down trees and starting wild fires.
There was also the challenge of increased pressure on the land as the growing population fought for the diminishing land for their survival, leading to its further degradation, he said.
The Kilimanjaro experience is replicated in many other areas in the country with varying levels of damage to the environment.
Besides the exhibition aiming to raise people’s awareness about the state of the country’s environment and the actions needed to conserve it, the government has also introduced the presidential award to encourage people to literally compete in conservation initiatives.
Yet a lot needs to be done urgently to avert the looming crisis of degradation which President Kikwete said was endangering the lives and welfare of Tanzanians.
The government must first use all means to stop acts of illegal harvesting of trees, destruction of water sources, including weeding out officials who collude with elements destroying the environment.
It is only when this is stopped that the restoration can proceed sustainably.
We are happy to learn that a campaign has been launched in Kilimanjaro and that already over 5 million trees have been planted in different parts of the region with the goal being to plant 10 million trees by next year.
We need many more such sustained campaigns throughout the country, to restore rivers which were before always full, but have been reduced to rivulets or dried up altogether.
The extent of ignorance on the importance of environmental conservation was demonstrated by villagers in Kilimanjaro, who recently chased away with machetes, a team of environmental journalists documenting degradation of water sources in their area.
There was a time when the people feared to tread near water sources, let alone tamper with any vegetation around it. The question that all of us need to ask and seek an answer to is: “Where has this positive fear gone and how can it be revived?”
The authorities may want to find out how this self-policing succeeded and for a long time kept the water sources and forests safe, even when the wardens were few.
We need to do more now to enforcing protection of the environment as we set about restoring depleted lands.