By Anthony Kadoma- PhD Student, Environmental Sustainability, University of Glasgow

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 85% of the world countries are ecologically bankrupt. Ecological bankruptcy is defined as a situation where a country’s natural resources are used at a faster rate than the same resources can regenerate. This bankruptcy is more pronounced in developed countries compared to middle-income countries and very few of the developing countries. Thus, many of the countries in Europe, Asia, and North America are perceived to be ecologically bankrupt. In the same way, developing countries that are not already there are not resting, they are also racing and are on a terrific speed to catch up with the developed nations. Global programs such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim at improving living standards across the globe mainly through poverty eradication. Although we all agree with the endeavour to eradicate poverty, by transitioning to improved standards of living, it is essential that this improvement is done cautiously and in awareness of the environmental costs that come with development.

Several examples can indicate ecological bankruptcy. This can manifests through the negative effects of climate change such as prolonged droughts, uncontrolled wildfires, hail storms, hurricanes, flooding, landslides, ever-changing seasons, excessive carbon-dioxide,  loss of biodiversity, presence of many crops and animal pests and diseases, invasion of locusts, and unprecedented human destruction on environment. It is surprising to note that in Uganda, lakes that are traditionally known for not exceeding their usual levels have done so in the recent past – a phenomenon that had not been seen in decades.

Whereas it is difficult to pinpoint the actual causes of the above disasters, many of them may be linked to human activities and natural change processes. The global population currently stands at 7.8 billion with a 2.3 fertility rate (World Population Data Sheet-2020), living in an inelastic planet. Matters are made worse with the presence of non-ecological human behaviour and actions towards mother earth such as inappropriate disposal of plastic materials and general waste management. The ever-increasing human population also let to a significant encroachment on world wetlands driving them to disappear three times faster than forests (UN Climate Change Report- 2018).

Below I suggest what I consider the ten points or actions that can be taken to mitigate ecological bankruptcy in any given community. This list is not exhaustive and can be amended if more research is conducted to address specific issues.

  1. Increase awareness about the problem of ecological bankruptcy so that it is clearly understood by all.
  2. Enlist the participation of all stakeholders in whatever capacity they can support.
  3. Identify and promote locally based solutions grounded in indigenous knowledge.
  4. Study and share good practices globally, regionally, nationally and at the community level.
  5. Advocate for and influence human behavioural changes to adopt better waste management practices of reducing, recycling, and reusing. Conserve and use wisely the remaining ecosystems and make practical efforts to restore those destroyed.
  6. Identify and support alternative sources of livelihood for the majority of poor subsistence farmers. With improved living standards, they will be able to shift their practices towards more sustainable ones
  7. Establish and implement punitive measures for those who use their economic power and political connections to destroy the environment on a large scale. This can be achieved if politics is removed from the management of the environment.
  8. Make improvements in the quality of services offered to the citizens, especially in areas of health, education, and agriculture. It should be remembered that modern agriculture relies heavily on the use of hydrocarbons, pesticides, and fertilisers. These need to be used in moderation and where applicable be replaced with organic farming.
  9. Encourage everyone to take individual responsibility regarding how we live our lives. Planet-friendly actions need to be adopted. These among others may include free distribution and planting of several trees in areas where massive vegetation cover has been cleared, reforestation where forest lands have been decimated, and stopping the encroachment on wetlands and riverbanks as well as lakeshores.
  10. Finally, for most Sub-Saharan African countries, particularly Uganda, increase access to electricity and make it affordable to the citizens. At present (2020) only about 60% of the urban residents and 18% of the rural residents are connected to the national grid. Given the fact that over 75% of the population lives in rural areas (World Bank Report 2019), this paints a very grim situation. It implies that most of the people still rely on wood as their source of energy for cooking and lighting.

In conclusion, all individuals, communities and governments in both developed and developing nations need to be unequivocally aware of the fact that we are living in a natural resource-constrained planet. Our ecological overdraft gets larger day by day and year by year. Therefore, we need to be careful about how we harvest and use the scarce available resources as their scarcity is going to intensify as the world population increases, more disasters befall us, wrong political decisions are taken, and finally the presence of our uncontrolled greed.