SWAZILAND: Environment law enforcement gets new teeth
Population pressure in the countryside has given rise to problems like soil degradation
Mbabane, 3 June 2005 (IRIN) - Swaziland now has a national enforcement agency to ensure that its environmental laws are implemented: the kingdom, known for its lush forests, this week reconstituted the Swaziland Environmental Authority (SEA) and equipped it with some teeth.
"The previous board did not have the power to take action against offenders - we do not want to close down businesses, we only want them to comply with environmental regulations," said Minister of Environment and Tourism Thandi Shongwe.
Irma Allen was appointed chairman of the reconstituted SEA, which, 13 years after its establishment, has finally been given the power to levy fines.
"Up to now, the SEA board has been a policy board; we now enter a new phase as a management board, guiding SEA from its transition as a government unit to a corporate body [parastatal]," said Allen.
Swaziland's environmental legislation is among the most comprehensive. According to veteran environmentalist Ted Reilly, founder of Swaziland's first game park, the Game Act, which protects several endangered species, has helped reduce poaching by 90 percent.
In urban centres environmental concerns have been handled by the respective municipalities, but the appearance of Swazi towns and roadsides is an indicator of public apathy toward a clean environment.
This week a ministry-sponsored 'road show' on environmental issues went to schools, businesses and town centres to draw attention to the deteriorating urban landscape and water supply.
Admitting that environmental awareness needed improvement, Allen called on the local press to become an advocate for green causes.
Churchill Fakudze, city manager of Manzini, the main commercial hub 35 km east of the capital, Mbabane, commented, "As we become a consumer society, people just discard what they don't need, expecting someone else to pick it up. We must take responsibility for our own living spaces."
Unlike the country's network of public and private game parks and nature reserves, urban centres do not feature on tourists' destinations lists. Informal townships ring both Manzini and Mbabane, and uncoordinated rural development is spreading into marginal land unsuited to cultivation or human habitation.
"The Matsapha industrial estate [outside Manzini] has been incorporated with its own town board, but they have no environmental department," said environmentalist Chris Davies.
He pointed out that no measures were taken to ensure that water from the Lusushwana river, which flows out of Matsapha's factory enclave carrying polluted effluents, did not affect the thousands of Swazi villagers downstream.
With the government encouraging industrialisation as a poverty eradication strategy to offset unemployment and declining agricultural prices, the country's once pristine air quality is also under threat.
The skies above Manzini and Matsapha are heavily polluted, while a doubling of registered cars in the past 10 years has created air quality problems in Mbabane, whose highveld location traps air pollutants in the narrow mountain valleys of the capital.
However, with the SEA now armed with enforcement powers, the situation in the urban centres should improve, according to environmentalists.
Population pressure in the countryside has given rise to problems like soil degradation, as a result of farming on unsuitable land.
The encroaching farmers often do not use environmentally friendly farming techniques, such as fertiliser application or crop rotation, which could lead to the loss of up to 20 percent of Swaziland's cropland in the next 10 years, a report being compiled by an environmental NGO has found.
Rural environmental problems are worsened by town-dwellers, who rely on firewood for fuel, spreading desertification as the trees are cut down.
"You look at the trucks going to town carrying firewood for the winter - the wood is not wattle or gum tree, but old-growth indigenous trees that, once gone, are not likely to come back," said Davies.
Reilly concurred. "Rural folks are hard-hit by poverty and joblessness, and they are struggling to survive, so they take from their environment in order to do that - but urban wood users must not encourage rural residents to destroy their own habitats."