Defending the environment cannot be postponed-EHRDs


11 March 2022

The world now more than ever recognises the significance of living in a safe, clean and healthy environment. Recently in October 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council recognised the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental right through resolution HRC/RES/48/13. This landmark resolution comes at a time when the world is facing the pressing environmental challenges of climate change, unsustainable development and environmental degradation. The Conference of Parties (COP26) saw several environmental human rights defenders being excluded from participating in the proceedings hence resorting to protesting outside the venue. This shows that the next global battlefront is of environmental human rights defenders against states, state actors and corporates on their quest to avoid the dire consequences of climate change.

With the increasing demand for countries to monitor gas emissions or any activities that have a negative impact on climate change, it becomes necessary to train the EHRDs on the fundamentals of Climate Change, their role, and how they can be protected using law as the tool. Zimbabwe has been on the receiving end of climate change effects and for ZELA there is no better time than the present to empower EHRDs on laws and policies that relate to climate change and capacitating them to continue defending the environment. This is even demonstrated by the snippets shared by our paralegals which simply shows why there is a need to close the knowledge gap.

Some communities that live in and around mineral host communities continue to suffer immense pressure and even arrests when they voice their concerns on unsustainable mining activities that have resulted in investors’ failure to uphold fundamental human rights. Lungile Masuku of Gwanda says mining host communities are at the receiving end as mining affects the environment and she is ever ready to defend the environment.

“Climate change has had negative impacts on our communities as we witness changes in rainfall patterns. Gwanda district and the whole of Matabeleland South is receiving low rainfall, and this has led to food insecurity. Prevalent water shortages have resulted in women and girls spending more time looking for the precious liquid which is scarce in this province. The temperatures are usually very high, and this also affects trees, vegetation, and wildlife. 

Gwanda district is rich in gold deposits hence mining activities are taking place at a small and large scale. The mining host communities are at a receiving end as mining affects the environment. The effects of mining are erosion, the contamination of soil, ground water and surface water by chemicals such as cyanide, mercury and other chemicals used by mining companies.
The emission of carbon also has an effect on humans, vegetation and water sources. An example being Pretoria Portland Cement in Colleen Bawn one such company that has been emitting carbon. We also have rampant riverbed gold mining at one of the rivers at Farvic A2 Mine. The river has been left with gullies and this has caused problems like degrading of water quality and ground water depletion. The other factor that causes climate change is cutting and burning of trees to clear land for mining activities. And this causes permanent scars on the land.

The highlighted challenges cannot be ignored any longer. We need all hands on deck to address the climate change scourge.

As a paralegal in Gwanda district where mining is rampant, participating in the training session will equip me with more knowledge on what measures to take to assist affected communities and come up with engagement techniques that can be used for communities to be able to identify and engage relevant authorities on issues around environmental degradation and climate change and how they can monitor mining activities that contribute to climate change and find ways to mitigate the situation.”

For Eveline Kutyauripo, the devastating challenges posed by climate change has seen vulnerable communities, especially women suffering the most.

“Shortage of water for daily use has seen some of us being forced to travel long distances to fetch water. In Mutoko, some of the families like us who have always relied on smallholder farming for our livelihood have been hit the most by the effects of climate change. Water has become a scarce commodity resulting in our produce being affected. To better understand and respond to these challenges, capacity building is important. This is the reason why I have expressed my interest to be capacitated on how I can better defend our environmental rights from violation by corporates, state actors and unsustainable exploitation resulting in climate change”.

“Climate change has resulted in adverse impacts in our community. These are too visible to ignore.  Inconsistent rainfall has resulted in droughts, and some have been forced to relocate due to unpredictable rainfall and a cocktail of problems. As an Environmental Justice Paralegal, I am interested in attending the trainings as this will enhance my capacity and understanding of climate change issues, causes and mitigation measures. Learning best practices and enhancing knowledge on how to effectively implement those is critical” Kudakwashe Zireva.

Given the above experiences shared by community monitors, there is a need to empower them on climate change issues, empower them on how they can effectively engage duty bearers and companies in a move to ensure the realisation of Environmental, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

With the increasing demand for countries to monitor gas emissions or any activities that have a negative impact on the environment, ZELA notes that capacity building of EHRDs on climate change related issues and use of the law for protection cannot be postponed in the wake of this existential threat.

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