The Horn of Africa is one of the regions of the world most affected by climate change and environmental degradation, which is manifested through the droughts and crop failures in recent years. Organisations, such as HoA-REC&N, play a very important role to address and raise awareness about environmental problems in the region and elsewhere. But what is often neglected and overlooked are the roles and contributions of individual citizens in protecting the environment.
The Horn of Africa has one of the fastest rates of urbanisation in the world. Combined with a growing trend of consumerism, urbanisation is putting pressure on water and energy resources and waste management in major cities in the region. While organisations and governments are working on making cities more resilient and protecting the environment, it is important that citizens also know their roles and act proactively and effectively to bring about genuine change. When citizens begin respecting and caring for the environment more in their daily life, governments and other economic powers will feel obligated to give more value or priority for environmental issues. Here are some of the ways individual citizens in the Horn of Africa could contribute to the environment.
Use less water, and wisely
Countries in the Horn of Africa suffer from severe water shortage. Even in Ethiopia, which is often dubbed as “the water tower of East Africa,” most people do not have access to clean water. As cities grow and urbanisation expands, we can give care individually for water resources and contribute to fair distribution of water by taking concrete measures.
We can start this by refraining from pouring chemicals in a storm drain, since it can end up in the nearest river. If we have lawns, it is not advisable that we water more than once a week during dry season. Such places need only one inch of water a week. If we own a car, it is advisable that we use a bucket instead of the hose to wash it.
If we do not let the water run while we shave or brush our teeth, we can save a lot of water. So turn it on only when you need it. Taking shorter showers and installing a low-flow shower head could also reduce our water usage. In some places in the Horn of Africa, rainwater is available throughout the year. We can, therefore, collect rainwater to rinse dishes, to wash cars, to water our gardens and to take our showers.
Use less energy, and consciously
Outside the cities, wood and sometimes charcoal account for the majority of energy consumption in the Horn of Africa. Even in urban centres, charcoal is one of the most common energy sources for cooking. This has been the main cause of deforestation in the region. As governments and environmental organisations are seeking a way to reduce dependence on wood-based fuels, we, as individuals, can take some responsible measures to reduce our energy consumption. These include turning off lights and other electrical devices when we don’t need them. For example if we don’t watch TV, we can turn it off. It’s an easy habit to take up, and it will help us save money. We also can develop the habit of buying low energy equipment. When light bulbs burn out, we can replace them with energy-efficient bulb such as compact fluorescent light bulbs.
In many rural areas of the Horn of Africa, people use batteries to power their radio and home light. In such cases, using solar powered rechargeable batteries can reduce the cost of energy and contribute to environmental health. Thanks to many environmental organizations like HoA-REC&N, biogas and fuel efficient technologies are more accessible today than ever to our rural population. Individuals and families can now use them, while relying less on firewood and charcoal. For our urban setting, we can walk more or ride on a bicycle, rather than driving a car, since driving is one of the biggest causes of air pollution. If we have to drive a long walk we can use a public transport, as well.
Reduce waste and pollute less
When cities grow bigger and expand rapidly, the problem of waste management becomes a headache to city administrators, as experienced in our big cities here in East Africa. Unless it is managed properly, it can cause many social and health-related problems. So, we have to do something individually to contribute to the mitigation of its effects. We should not place hazardous materials such as pesticides, car batteries, waste oil and similar materials in the trash. If we use a computer and printer, we can use both sides of the paper by setting the printer or copier to make double-sided copies, and we will substantially reduce our paper use. If we have extra clothes, we can give it away to charitable organizations or a needy someone than throwing it into a trash. We can also compost our organic waste and repurpose as fertiliser in our home gardens. Finally, if there is no other use for our waste, we can recycle some of our non-organic waste.
Get engaged, and help the community
There are many non-government and communitybased organisations and associations, with the aim to protect the environment. One way to care for the environment is to get involved in the activities of those organisations. We can join an organisation, a club, or even an internet group to work for a common cause. We can help the community by informing our family and friends that we want to do more to protect the environment, and that it’s important to do. So, spreading the word and creating awareness is one of the ways to engage in environmental protection. We can also plant trees with people in our village or neighbourhood and contribute to the re-greening effort of local governments.
Be conscious of nature and man
In protecting the environment, it is always important to remember that all of nature is connected in a web of interaction. Taking care of the environment and all living things in the environment is taking care of ourselves, since we are a part of this web of interaction. Besides, when we think of the environment, the primary focus should be people who depend on the environment for survival. If our personal effort is directed towards protecting the dignity of man, the protection of nature will follow naturally.
All these efforts might bring little change to the region we live in when we do it individually, but if each contributes according to his ability and understanding, the world will change. In the end, it seems good to wrap up with a wise word from Pope Francis, who is also a strong advocate of environmental protection: “We must not think that these [individual] efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of selfesteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile”