Protecting our forests | Daily News

Protecting our forests

Raging forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon have turned the world’s attention to the wanton destruction of the world’s forests. One particularly upsetting fact about the Amazon fires seems to be that they have been caused deliberately by cattle farmers and others encroaching on forest land. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who came under a lot of flak for his apparent lack of resolve to deal with the fires, has finally sent the Army to quell them.

Although it is not strictly true that the Amazon supplies 20 percent of the Earth’s Oxygen, It is nevertheless one of the most important ecological systems in the world. Environmentalists have been dismayed by reports that the Amazon was losing nearly four football fields’ worth of trees almost every day. Deforestation on this scale is immensely destructive to Nature.

The Amazon may be physically located in Brazil, but it belongs to the whole world. In fact, any virgin forest anywhere should be considered as a treasure of humankind. Forests all over the world will face a dark future if every country engages in the destruction of its forest cover on the basis that other countries should have no interest in it. But a forest is a force of life that belongs to all.

This is indeed why Sri Lanka should also devote extra attention to protecting its forest cover, which now hovers around the 33 percent mark from a relatively high 36 percent in 1990 (Forest area is land under natural or planted stands of trees of at least 5 metres in situ, whether productive or not, and excludes trees in agricultural production systems and trees in urban parks and gardens). Fires are a regular occurrence in Sri Lanka’s forests as well – some are acts of arson or carelessness (even a discarded cigarette butt can cause a fire in dry weather) and some are caused naturally. But every effort must be made to prevent these fires since it is extremely difficult to get a forest back in shape once a fire decimates it. The other obvious solution is reforestation – the world will need millions of trees as the population reaches nearly 10 billion over the next two decades. Sri Lanka already has a drive to plant more trees, but this should be reinvigorated with the fullest participation of schoolchildren, the obvious beneficiaries of such a drive 30-40 years from now. Forests are vital for our future and we must take steps to protect them now.


Mugabe: End of an Era

Robert Mugabe, who passed away yesterday at the age of 95, was a Southern African icon who polarized opinion at home and abroad. In the words of his successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe was “an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten.”

Independent Zimbabwe is still a young country, known as Southern Rhodesia during the colonial period. Having regained independence in 1979, landlocked Zimbabwe had known no other leader except for Mugabe, who became Prime Minister in 1980 before ascending to the Presidency in 1988.

Some saw him as a hero for ending white domination, while others saw him as a despot and villain who destroyed the socio-economic fabric of Zimbabwe. Mugabe, who began his career as a teacher, made his mark as a guerilla fighter in Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence and became popular among Zimbabweans for his stand against colonialism and capitalism after being imprisoned by Rhodesia’s white rulers in 1964. In fact, it would not be incorrect to say that South Africa’s ANC derived inspiration from this struggle for their own drive to end Apartheid. Mugabe’s takeover of white-owned farms in 2000 saw a surge in his popularity among a segment of the population, but isolated him internationally.

By all accounts, he actually lost the 2008 election to Morgan Tsvangirai. In the ensuing violence, Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round and Mugabe was forced to share power with his rival for four years, though he remained President. He then won the election in 2013. His one major achievement – the expansion of the education system saw literacy rates climb up to 90 percent, but ironically, this turned the tide against him as young, educated Zimbabweans began to abhor the ruling political elite.

Although once hailed as a “king” by some of his closest associates, the majority of Zimbabweans were aghast at the idea of a perpetual rule. When he retired two years ago, there were scenes of jubilation on the streets of Harare and elsewhere.

The focus is now on the future of Zimbabwe after Mugabe’s divisive legacy. It is not easy to dismantle the Mugabe-era structures and systems that have been deeply ingrained in Zimbabwe’s political landscape for nearly 40 years and Mnangagwa himself has been part of that system. In essence, there should be a drastic change in the country’s political culture and a transformation of the economy which is now in a shambles. It is time for Zimbabwe to rise anew.


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