Please safeguard trees around Maseru


. . . Can someone hear me? Anybody home?

Liapeng Raliengoane

The sentiment expressed by Nelson Henderson, that “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit,” resonates deeply when considering the importance of environmental stewardship and the long-term benefits it can bring to communities. However, a stroll through Maseru, the capital city, paints a totally different picture. The streets are lacking of the green view that one might expect, with trees seemingly felled without consideration for the future.

In a country that claims to be a Christian state, one would expect the Bible to echo some sense: Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” I am surprised the churches, climate change activists, environmental stewards and organizations raising awareness on climate change and environmental protection are all silent while the trees are cut down. It has been quite some time now. Perhaps they know something I don’t! But I am greatly amused by their silence.   

The National Strategic Development Plan II (NSDP) explicitly acknowledges the detrimental effects of environmental degradation, one would anticipate concerted efforts to reverse this trend. The NSDP II rightly identifies factors such as overgrazing, deforestation, and unsustainable agricultural practices as contributing to the erosion of Lesotho’s natural resources. The government’s commitments to combating land degradation, promoting biodiversity conservation, and enhancing resilience to climate change are commendable on paper. However, the reality on the ground tells a different story.

Despite these admirable aspirations, the tangible outcomes of environmental protection initiatives, particularly concerning tree conservation in urban areas like Maseru, remain indescribable. The gap between policy rhetoric and implementation highlights systemic challenges that hinder effective environmental governance. While impressive objectives decorate official documents, translating them into actionable strategies often falls short due to administrative inefficiencies, inadequate funding and a lack of coordination between government agencies and local communities.

What is more puzzling is that Section 36 of the Constitution notes: “Lesotho shall adopt policies designed to protect and enhance the natural and cultural environment of Lesotho for the benefit of both present and future generations and shall endeavor to assure to all its citizens a sound and safe environment adequate for their health and well-being.” Still, the issue of enforcement and compliance with environmental regulations poses a significant challenge.

Even with the existence of legislation such as the Environment Act of 2008 and Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 aimed at safeguarding natural resources, enforcement mechanisms may be weak or inconsistently applied. This creates a culture of exemption where illegal logging and other environmentally destructive activities continue unchecked. Also, socio-economic factors play a pivotal role in shaping environmental practices. In communities where livelihoods depend on exploiting natural resources for immediate economic gain, the long-term consequences of deforestation may be overshadowed by pressing needs for survival.  

Addressing these underlying socio-economic drivers requires all-inclusive approaches that prioritize sustainable development and reasonable resource distribution. Furthermore, public awareness and participation are essential pillars of successful environmental conservation efforts. “The Environmental Policy relates directly to Lesotho’s national development priorities. It focuses on the social and economic dimensions, the management and conservation of natural resources and the promotion of community participation” the Environmental Policy notes, yet authorities are doing the opposite by cutting down trees in Maseru.  

One of the main strategies for integrating the environment and development into decision making and achieving sustainable development is to develop a system and guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessments, audits, monitoring and evaluation, so that adverse environmental impacts can be eliminated or mitigated and environmental benefits enhanced. Empowering citizens to become stewards of their natural surroundings through education, community engagement, and incentives for eco-friendly practices can foster a culture of environmental responsibility from the grassroots level upwards.

In the context of urban planning, integrating green spaces and tree-lined avenues into city infrastructure is vital for enhancing the quality of life for residents and mitigating the urban heat island effect. However, urban development projects often prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability, leading to the unselective removal of trees and vegetation, just as is happening in Maseru. To address these challenges effectively, a multi-faceted approach is necessary.

This approach demands a standard shift towards viewing environmental protection not as an intellectual ideal, but as an essential imperative for safeguarding the well-being of current and future generations while also being a move towards heeding God’s call to his nation, to cultivate and take care of the environment. Only then can we hope to create a world where the shade of our collective efforts provides relief for all. Thus, it is critical as Chinua Achebe noted that, “It is simply impossible for an iroko tree to fall and the forest to remain quiet” to collectively safeguard trees around Maseru.  

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