Zambia: Youth Involvement Vital for Biodiversity Conservation

YOUTHS nowadays have grown up amid serious environmental issues relatively known to the previous generations.

Some of the problems include the increasing damage to the environment from mining and cutting down of trees, shortage of clean drinking water, damage to the ozone layer, growing number of endangered animals and plants, and not enough energy.

Billy Lombe says future generations would be more affected by today's course of action because their future depends on the extent to which this generation would address concerns such as depletion of resources and the loss of biodiversity.

Mr Lombe, who is the president for Youth Environment Network (YEN) Zambia, said there was need to raise a cadet of leaders that understand the immeasurable value of biodiversity.

"We must sensitise youths especially those who live in rural areas where biodiversity exploitation takes place.

"Most young people who fish using mosquito nets, poach and cut trees irresponsibly are not aware of the value of biodiversity." he said.

He believes that with proper training, young people could change their attitudes and promote the adoption of values such as the importance of biodiversity conservation and sharing nature's benefits fairly and equitably at events such as the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"It is harder to make adults change to be greener than it is for children and young people to simply grow up green.

"On the other hand, adults are the ones who can have the greater impact. They are the ones making major decisions. They will just tell us how much they will allocate to biodiversity conservation and the legislation and regulations on biodiversity conservation they will develop." he said.

Mr Lombe called on leaders to create meaningful opportunities for young people to participate in as active agents in decisions affecting them.

He noted that at the just-ended UN Conference on Biological Diversity in India, only two youths from Zambia and Nigeria represented Africa.

"How many countries do we have in Africa?" he asked.

"Other countries like Germany and Japan had at least 10 youths on their entourage, no wonder these youths become excellent delegates because their leaders have understood that what happens in these meetings today does not just affect the future, it is the future," says Mr Lombe.

It is by expressing their views and having their opinions taken seriously that young people develop skills, build competencies, acquire confidence and form aspirations.

The more opportunities a young person has for meaningful participation, the more experienced and competent he or she becomes.

YEN Zambia has partnered with a number of schools in raising awareness and encourages children to take action in protecting and using these important resources wisely.

On the World Environment Day, YEN Zambia also conducts environmental fanfare to showcase innovative ideas through creative plays, essays, paintings, songs and poems.

The communication and advocacy officer for Commonwealth Youth Climate Network, Chola Simwanza adds that it is of great importance that Zambia builds a society that cares for the environment.

"It is imperative that the youth play a proactive role in addressing key environmental issues and is adept at mitigating and adapting to these changes.

"There is urgent need to sensitise our society as they hold the key to affect the much-needed change that would lead to conservation of natural resources," he said.

His strong emphasis is on environmental education and communication.

"I strongly feel that it is vital to include environmental education in the national curriculum. We also need more environmental clubs in schools because children need to be coached from primary school."

His suggestion is that youths should exhibit their innovations on Youth Day every year.

Mr Simwanza agrees with Mr Lombe that a very important part of biodiversity conservation is the dialogue between all stakeholders, especially between the different generations.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country director Viola Morgan says since the future of a country lies in the youth who constitute the largest segment of the Zambian population, it is important that they participate in all areas of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental conservation.

"We should recognise the youths as agents of positive change in the development process. Not only should they play their role as instruments of development, they should also participate in the equitable sharing of the benefits and fruits of sustainable development," Ms Morgan says.

She said this prompted UNDP to formulate a strategy called the UNDP Youth Strategy.

The strategy would set out guidelines for engaging with youths in development as a long-term path to better outcomes for young people and for the broader society of which they are an integral part.

"We believe that the strategy will be applied to UNDP's current corporate areas of support which are democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery, environment and energy including biodiversity, gender, poverty reduction, and HIV and AIDS," she said.

The strategy would also provide adequate guidelines on how UNDP should encourage and support countries in the engagement of the youth in various facets of development, including biodiversity conservation which the organisation views as extremely important for human survival and well-being.

The concern is that in recent decades, the world has experienced unprecedented biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, thereby undermining the very foundations of life on earth.

The impact of diversity tends to be disproportionate.

It is usually the poor and the vulnerable that are most affected as they depend on ecosystem goods and services for their basic needs and livelihoods.

Biodiversity loss and ecosystems degradation are undermining hard-won development gains and thereby compromising efforts to achieve equitable and sustainable development as well as meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The UNDP believes that to stop or to continuously reduce biodiversity loss, it is necessary to promote the integration of biodiversity and ecosystems management into the development and poverty reduction agenda in a way that not only conserves biodiversity but also continuously increases a country's resilience and achievement of broader social and economic development goals.

In other words, biodiversity conservation must be addressed from the perspective of achieving a triple solution that simultaneously advances economic, social, and environmental objectives in an equitable manner.

Since the future of a country lies in the youth, it follows that the battle against biodiversity loss cannot be won sustainably without the active participation of all the segments of society, especially the youth.

Youth participation could be promoted through various initiatives including engaging with Government, local communities and others to understand and work to address significant biodiversity issues in their respective areas.

According to Ms Morgan, "we should help the youth to appreciate that traditional knowledge and values of local communities are valuable for biodiversity conservation as well as provide them with opportunities to improve their understanding of and participation in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity."

Minister for Lands, Natural resources and Environmental Protection Wilbur Simuusa, who led a Zambian delegation to India, says Zambia has all the policy and regulations to protect the environment but stresses that they can only be effective if they were supported by the people, especially the youth.

The minister expressesd his support for stronger youth involvement in the conservation of biodiversity and underlined his desire for further collaboration with the already existing youth organisations.

He said that youths were the bridge between traditional knowledge and current technology.

"We leant a lesson in India and we intend to engage youths in meetings and programmes. If we involve them in programmes, it will stimulate their sense of ownership, participation and creativity. When young people feel ownership, they are more apt to take the programme seriously and involve their peers.

"Youths are enthusiastic, energetic, creative, and interested in solving problems and concerned about their future," he said.

Mr Simuusa said the recently launched tree planting campaign was one way of mobilising the youth because environmental issues could only be addressed through the involvement and cooperation of everyone, more importantly the youth.

He expressed happiness at the support of various sectors, particularly the youth, on the tree planting programme.

"We will orient the youth to think green, sustainable and conservation because biodiversity provides essential economic benefits and services to human society such as food, clothing, shelter, fuel and medicines as well as ecological, recreational, cultural and aesthetic values. Thus it plays an important role in sustainable development."

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