Munyaradzi Chenje. State of the Environment in the Zambezi Basin 2000. Maseru, Lusaka and Harare: SADC, IUCN, ZRA, and SARDC, 2000. xxvi + 334 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-77910-009-2.
Reviewed by Nancy Jacobs (Africana Studies & History, Brown University)
Published on H-SAfrica (December, 2001)
Environmental Reporting from Africa
Environmental Reporting from Africa
This book is a dense source of rare data on the Central African environment, specifically, the Zambezi basin. It is the result of an impressive collaboration, presenting the work of over twenty contributors, as reviewed by over twenty expert readers. The collaborative writing comes off smoothly, probably due to the efforts of the editor, Munyaradzi Chenje of SARDC.
This book is particularly valuable for presenting African research on the African environment. Much of the book is based on Southern African Development Community (SADC) studies. Too often, African environmental studies have been a preoccupation of foreigners, both NGOs and university-based researchers. Unfortunately, foreigners have sometimes been insensitive to the importance of the social context of environmental issues, by engaging in technocratic analysis, or worse by concentrating on non-human "nature" to the exclusion of people living in it. Although sensitivity to these issues has increased in the past decade, the field must still seek out more African insights--which tend to be more socially aware--into environmental issues. The analysis in this book is firmly embedded in the social and economic conditions of contemporary Africa. However, it is a limitation of this book that it conceives of the biophysical environment only as a resource for development. It thus excludes considerations--even some indigenous ones--of the non-utilitarian value of the non-human world.
Its target audience is also African, "from politicians and policymakers to civil society and communities in the region--both rural and urban" (p. xxiv). The region itself is large; eight countries fall within the Zambezi basin (Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). So, the framework is deliberately trans-national, urging cooperation about common problems within the river system. Within any given country, the authors hope the book will promote discussions between those who make environmental policy and those affected by it. Ultimately, the aim of the book is to provide information to "challenge people, governments, organisations, researchers and the media to strive for the sustainable utilisation of resources" (p. xxiv).
The unequal distribution of resources for publishing has created a problem for Africans doing research, because they often have difficulty making their work known in Africa and beyond. Publication of this large and attractive volume was made possible through a collaboration of SADC, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) and the Southern African Research and Development Centre (SARDC). (It is distributed in the US and Europe by the African Books Collective in Oxford.) The editor and publishers have gone to impressive lengths to make the information collected in this book accessible. It has a well-designed layout to ease communication of the abundant data. The text is usefully broken down into sections that are usually less than a page long. In addition, it offers scores of maps, tables and figures, printed in three colors. There are over 200 good black-and-white photographs. Furthermore, issues deserving a fuller discussion are highlighted in dozens of boxes. Each chapter concludes with a page describing "linkages to other chapters."
Since the Zambezi begins and ends in Lusophone Africa, a book in English will not help many readers in Angola and Mozambique, and so the publishers have also issued a Portuguese translation. (Because some readers may find this large book offers more information than they require, a 90-page executive summary, published separately, is available in both English and Portuguese.)
The book has thirteen chapters, as listed: "Chapter 1: Regional Overview: People and the Environment"; "Chapter 2: Physical Features and Climate"; "Chapter 3: Water and Wetland Resources"; "Chapter 4: Biological Resources and Diversity"; "Chapter 5: Agriculture"; "Chapter 6: Industry"; "Chapter 7: Energy"; "Chapter 8: Tourism"; "Chapter 9: Pollution"; "Chapter 10: Poverty"; "Chapter 11: Gender and Women's Roles"; "Chapter 12: Environment Management and Regional Cooperation"; and, "Chapter 13: Trends and Scenarios".
Each chapter is rich with information, making the book a useful reference for anyone interested in these issues within the Zambezi basin, or in comparison with areas beyond. The chapters form several larger sections: background information on the people and bio-physical aspects of the basin (1-4); economic issues in environmental management (5-9); social and political issues in environmental management (10-12); and future possibilities (13).
The chapters with background information on people and bio-physical characteristics offer a primer on the basin, on population, SADC initiatives, geomorphology, climate, water resource management, wetland preservation, biodiversity and conservation. These issues, broken down into many sub-points, are presented with much qualitative and quantitative detail that researchers will find helpful and easy to process. Although one hesitates to suggest that a book of this scope should have done more, the lack of historic discussion, particularly political history, is puzzling. The member states of the region are important actors in environmental negotiations and at the minimum, the history of their past and current environmental politics could be fruitfully compared and analyzed.
Chapters 5-9 are on economic issues, the environmental implications of production and consumption. These are pivotal chapters, because the book conceives of the biophysical environment as resources. They describe the environmental impacts and environmental initiatives in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, and fishing. Different energy resources are discussed, with reference to sustainable use and renewable resources. Another chapter highlights different kinds of tourism, their environmental impacts and eco-tourist initiatives. The treatment of CAMPFIRE, the community-based eco-tourism initiative in Zimbabwe, might seem overly positive to some. The section closes with a discussion of pollution, its sources, effects, and existing and potential controls.
Chapters 10-12 consider social and political issues--poverty, gender and government--in environmental management. The authors fully integrate environmental and social conditions: "Poverty is both the cause and result of environmental degradation" (p. 215). The pervasiveness of poverty increases the environmental threat, and demands that environmental planners address human deprivation. However, previous development efforts have had mixed results. The authors recommend basic changes in development programs, including "listening to the poor." Similarly, the chapter on gender begins with social conditions and unequal access to resources, arguing that empowering women as resources managers will result in better environmental protection. Chapter 13 on regional cooperation describes pertinent international conventions, SADC protocols and programs and also highlights the limits of current regional cooperation.
Chapter 13 asserts that the current trends point toward increasing poverty, food insecurity, population, pollution, environmental disease and threats to eco-systems. It remarks that SADC and its member countries do not have the economic, technical, and professional resources to solve these problems. Nor do they have the political incentives and will to cooperate constructively on common environmental problems. The current path, the authors warn, is unsustainable. They also offer a second scenario, toward a sustainable future. To reverse current trends, it will be necessary to take new action against fundamental problems. According to the authors, the member states will play the leading role by implementing new, more progressive policies. However, much of the success will be dependent upon concession of national sovereignty to regional organizations.
Although foreign researchers were not the target audience for this book, it will be a useful reference work because of its broad scope, clear organization and wealth of data. I recommend that American and European libraries collecting African environmental publications acquire the full text of this study.
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Nancy Jacobs. Review of Chenje, Munyaradzi, State of the Environment in the Zambezi Basin 2000.
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