Faith groups in sub-Saharan Africa have launched long-term environmental protection action plans, which they say they will undertake in the next seven years as part of their commitments to caring for the earth.
Representing nearly 184 million followers, 26 groups including Christians, Muslims and Hindus, unveiled the plans in Nairobi on Sept. 18 at a celebration called “Many Heavens, One Earth, Our Continent.” The plans include massive tree planting, campaigns on environment and global warming, environmental education and training on sustainable farming.
“The faiths have stepped up to the mark and are saying to secular groups like UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program), governments, international agencies, ‘We are going to do this, will you walk with us on this journey?’ The response has been, ‘My goodness, we had no idea that the faiths were this committed, this strong, this trusted, may we walk with you?’” Martin Palmer, the general secretary of the Alliance of Religion Conservation, a U.K.-based environmental organization, told ENInews in an interview on Sept. 18.
Palmer, whose alliance helps religions develop their own environmental programs, said religious denominations had realized their enormous strength in changing the way people behave (about the environment), while the environmental movement had realized the denominations are the strongest, most powerful and most committed supporters and advocates of environmental protection.
“Major serious partnerships have been created today and every major faith tradition in Africa has said, ‘We will make this a priority.’ It’s a historic day,” he said.
The World Bank, with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and USAID- supported Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group funded the celebration which continued through Sept. 20.
“By launching these projects in regions where so many people depend directly on natural resources for survival and development, you will be securing livelihoods and food security of those who need it the most,” said Elin Bergithe Rognlie, the acting Ambassador of Norway to Kenya.
At the meeting, Mounkaila Goumandakoye, UNEP’s director and regional representative, said the commitment of faith groups in environment conservation is among the most important driving forces for positive change, as humanity is grappling with colossal consequences.
He said humanity had increased its ecological footprint from 0.5 Earth Planet in 1950 to 1.25 now and if the trends continue, very soon we will need two Planet Earths to satisfy our needs. At the same time, he said, greenhouse gas emissions, which are associated with global warming, continue to grow with a 40 percent increase in carbon dioxide.
“We have not succeeded in reversing the trends of environmental degradation because we fail to look at the issues through the lenses of spirituality, morality and faith,” he said. “The long term commitments for the living planet of the faith groups will help shape the beliefs, behavior and actions for a greener and better Africa.”
Among many examples from Lagos to Cape Town, Ethiopia’s 40,000 mosques for the first time committed to planting 5,000 trees over the next three years. Some of them say they will become “eco-mosques,” establishing woodlots in order to become self-sufficient in their fuel supply.
“We are moving towards deserts and I think planting trees will save our planet,” said Professor Abdulghafur E-Busaidy, the National Chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.