When environmental protection conflicts with livelihood

Human centred ethical values are one of the central preoccupations of environmental degradation in most rural parts of Rwanda. As a result, mankind is increasingly risking the loss of the very foundation of their survival. The variety of life on earth – known as ‘biodiversity’ – gives people food, clothes, fuel, medicine and much more.
L-R : Wood fuel is an essential need for survival but comes at the expense of the environment ; Charcoal is a major source of income in rural communities. (Photos by S. Rwembeho)
L-R : Wood fuel is an essential need for survival but comes at the expense of the environment ; Charcoal is a major source of income in rural communities. (Photos by S. Rwembeho)

Human centred ethical values are one of the central preoccupations of environmental degradation in most rural parts of Rwanda.

As a result, mankind is increasingly risking the loss of the very foundation of their survival. The variety of life on earth – known as ‘biodiversity’ – gives people food, clothes, fuel, medicine and much more.

However, many rural people believe that human beings possess greater intrinsic value than non-human nature. In other words, it is acceptable to exploit natural resources to make ends meet no matter how destructive they are.

Mustafa Habumuremyi, 36, a resident of Ndego sector in Kayonza district says that nature was created to serve man. He believes that it is a human right to exploit nature for survival.

“I cannot starve when trees are all around me, I know the government law prohibits cutting down trees, but I don’t agree with it. Trees are there to help human beings survive and not vice versa,” Habumuremyi said.

One African researcher and renowned scholar Edmond Were, also a lecturer at Edgerton University in Kenya said that, “the destruction of nature can be traced to African’s detachment from traditional beliefs. The attitude of today’s generation thus contrasts with that of our grandfathers, who considered nature sacred.”

In African traditional religion, people were obliged to respect nature, for it is where people traced their origin.

Were argues that the introduction of modern religions from the West, has been Africa’s undoing in all spheres of life.

“Biodiversity is useful to man and to the environment. Our ancestors realized the importance of the existence and well being of all the life forms along with the physical components of nature constituting their habitats. They realized the importance of forces in nature and experienced their impacts on life. That’s why they prayed for the maintenance, regulation and well being of the diversity of life on this earth to which they regarded as mother,” Were noted.

“Africans had environmental ethics that- humans must have to protect the biodiversity of nature. Ironically, in most of Africa, the loss of biodiversity has been caused by human beings through the loss of habitat, overexploitation and other activities,” he emphasized.

Respecting nature is a complex phenomenon
The complexity of the problem emanates from the fact that people cannot easily draw a clear line between anthropocentrism (the philosophy, which states that humans are supreme and nature exists for their benefit) and biocentrism (the belief in adoring, respecting and protecting nature as a meaningful life component).

Balancing these two phenomena has been the most difficult equation that human beings have to solve. People today find it difficult to exploit the environment in a friendly way that enables it to flourish.

Jean d’arc Mutuyimana, is a 54 year- old resident of Mwoga village in Kirehe district, Eastern Province, who doesn’t believe in human beings respecting nature.

“Trees should be cut down for fuel and building houses; that is why trees exist,” Mutuyimana said.

However, the constant cutting down tree has adverse effects on the environment and human livelihood.

Claude Ndayishimiye, 32, an agriculturist in Gahini sector insists that economic values are not rigid but rather, conditional depending on the availability of other alternative energy sources.

“The problem is that people’s economic values, are confused with daily ethical values,” said Ndayishimiye.
However, it should be noted that although the concept of economic value is different from ethical value, the two are not necessarily unrelated.

A proper link must be drafted between serving human beings and protecting the environment.

The issue of environmental protection goes beyond stating policies for implementation, it requires sensitizing the population to properly understand the concept of environmental protection and conservation.

mugitoni@gmail.com

 

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