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HomeworldHow Faith-Based Projects Are Helping To Stem Africa’s Growing Eco-Anxiety

How Faith-Based Projects Are Helping To Stem Africa’s Growing Eco-Anxiety

HARARE, Zimbabwe — For Cosmas Pikinini, a 61-year-old an insurance salesman, one thing that has kept him awake at night are the recurrent droughts that have seen many farmers return from their plots empty-handed. It is because his retirement plans involve investing his pension into farming on a family piece of land in Mhondoro, his rural home some 90 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of the capital.

With the droughts increasingly making rain-dependent farming careless gambling, his crucial retirement plans had been thrown into turmoil. However, as the father of six worried himself sick, one day at his church on the outskirts of the city, Pikinini’s eyes were opened to something that he had never taken notice of before: a green corn crop and a flourishing vegetable and tomato plot — all at the peak of the dry season.

READ: Christians Challenged To Connect With God’s Creation During Lent

At the Divineyard Church of His Presence, a Pentecostal church whose leader John Chibwe is always emphasizing the importance of self-sustenance while stressing the reality that climate change will not be making life in the future any better, the place has become an oasis in contrast to the surrounding communities whose residents barely have enough water to drink.

From the church’s horticultural project that relies on drawing underground water for irrigation, congregants and the local communities learn that it is not all doom and gloom and that it is practicable to produce food — even with little to no rainfall.

“Since then, I have been following the church’s farming projects and I am now very confident that I can still proceed with my plans to go into farming even as the droughts become more frequent,” a relieved Pikinini told Religion Unplugged.

To him, that is what the church should also be doing, that is, giving people hope in increasingly hopeless situations. He has since purchased irrigation pipes as he prepares to drill a borehole for his own horticultural project at his home.

Africa ‘suffering disproportionately’

The worries that Pikinini suffers is known as eco-anxiety. As the effects of climate change become more apparent in Africa and in other parts of the world, eco-anxiety is becoming prevalent. This is true especially in Africa, a continent that is home to a disproportionate share of climate change-related disasters, but also has limited resources to deal with them.

Africa is suffering from the effects of the relentless greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, such as recurrent and prolonged droughts, floods, out of season storms, longer heatwaves and other disasters. The United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that the continent’s contribution of these hazardous emissions is a mere 3%, yet the continent is among those worst affected by devastation of climate change.

Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa are suffering from devastating floods that have killed hundreds and left millions of others hungry and without homes. In late May, leaders of the Southern African Development Community sent an urgent appeal for $5.5 billion to feed over 60 million people who are threatened with starvation as the region faces its worst drought in four decades. This comes as a succession of cyclones in recent years has left trails of destruction in Madagascar, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

More than 800 million people on the African continent are classified as food insecure because of climate change. The African Development Bank estimates that the annual loss and damage costs due to climate change in its region are between $289.2 billion and $440.5 billion. Conservative estimates of Africa’s climate financing needs suggest that the continent needs an additional $194 billion — equivalent to some 14% of its gross domestic product — annually to support its transition to sustainable power generation and meet its sustainable development goals.

Faith groups intervene

Faith-based organizations have traditionally shared in the burden of alleviating human suffering from disasters. This makes climate change an urgent issue among faith-based organizations operating in Africa. From drilling boreholes to construction and or rehabilitation of dams to training communities in irrigation, conservation farming, nutrition gardens, small grains and drought resistant livestock and everything in between, faith-based actors are doing everything they can to contribute to Africa’s climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. In the process, their small efforts are bringing relief to communities across the continent.

For example, in Kenya, where April-May floods killed about 300 people, the National Council of Churches of Kenya said it has undertaken projects and initiatives that seek to enhance the resilience of communities to the impacts of climate change and promote sustainable development practices while also ensuring food security and environmental conservation.

These initiatives include sustainable agriculture projects, water management programs, reforestation and afforestation initiatives, disaster risk reduction and advocacy and policy influence.

NCCK’s program officer, Fidelia Munyoki, told Religion Unplugged that climate change is having disastrous impact on the lives of communities in Kenya and across Africa, making it a religious emergency.

“Many religious teachings emphasize the responsibility of humans to care for the Earth. Climate change, driven by human actions, represents a failure to fulfill this duty,” she said.

She added that climate change also brings to the fore the religious aspect of the interconnectedness of life, issues of justice and equity as well as issues of moral and ethical obligations.

“Religions often teach the importance of protecting the vulnerable and marginalized,” she said. “Climate change disproportionately affects the poor, making it a moral imperative for religious communities to act.”

Green Anglican Movement

Another example of a faith-based initiative that is addressing climate change and environmental issues on the African continent is known as the Green Anglican Movement. Launched in 2010 by the Environmental Network of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the movement promotes environmental stewardship and sustainable practices within the church and the wider community.

In 2021, it was broadened into a continent-wide movement known as the Green Anglicans of Africa. One of the key initiatives of the movement is the creation of “green teams” within local congregations. These teams are responsible for promoting sustainable practices within the church community, such as reducing energy consumption, promoting recycling and waste reduction, tree planting and supporting sustainable agriculture practices. The green teams also work with the wider community to promote environmental awareness and to advocate for policies to address climate change.

“We are aware of what is happening globally and nationally and locally,” said the archbishop of Cape Town and primate of Southern Africa, Thabo Makgoba. “We are witnessing unprecedented and severe climatic changes and the effects are devastating. As the environment is harmed, so are the local communities who live there. The impact is felt in terms of food production, of the availability of safe water, and of energy, in particular. The livelihoods of people may be changed forever.”

‘All of us have to be involved’

Father Stanslaus Muyebe, director of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, told Religion Unplugged that climate change-related disasters have become more frequent and intense in many of the African countries, causing massive suffering in the lives of the poorest of the poor.  

“As (the) church, we always reach out with God’s love wherever people are struggling with suffering and pain,” he said. “We know that many of the governments in Africa are struggling to keep up with the frequency and massiveness of climate change emergencies. We cannot therefore fold our hands and leave the disaster responses to the governments alone. All of us have to be involved.”

He said in addressing the climate crisis, it is important to ensure that it is done in a people-centered way.

“Some environmentalists only focus on the environmental degradation, without regarding to the people,” Muyebe said. “We have a faith-based approach that insists that the fight against climate change should have a people-centered approach, with a view that, before God, everything is interconnected.”

When looked at from this approach, he added, the fight against climate change becomes an issue of global injustice. 

“In particular, the countries in Africa contributed less to the onset of climate crisis,” Muyebe said. “Historically, we have been low emitters. Yet, countries in Africa are the ones who now carry (a) disproportionate burden of the climate emergencies, like floods and other disasters. The global response to climate change should factor this global injustice. In addressing the cries of the Earth, the global community shouldn’t ignore the cries of the countries in the Global South.”

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