A Rock and a Hard Place

The more you discover about the constellation of issues facing our planet today, the less you truly know. Apart from a few stubborn holdouts and politically motivated naysayers, however, it’s now pretty much established fact that our Earth is being assailed by a multitude of ills caused by anthropogenic (man-made) activities, generally believed to have increased exponentially with the manufacturing activities that heralded the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, around 1760.

The causes and effects of these interconnected problems, and the debates around them, need not detain us here because – you may well be pleased to learn – this is not an advocacy site. Simply put, I’m probably not diplomatic enough to wade into all those particular issues with equanimity (even if I had the time to research them with care) and in any case, if civil-society advocacy and political action are your thing, there are a gazillion sites you can check out yourself and weigh up online before you commit to getting involved.

Once you do so, you will discover for yourself that for every pressing environmental or human-welfare dilemma there’s usually a good-faith solution that emerges that an individual can get behind, then a backlash against it, then some sort of re-evaluation and the process begins over again: paralysis by analysis, in many cases, ensues. We may think we are unambiguously doing the right thing if we purchase a re-usable linen bag to hold our shopping instead of grabbing a handful of single-use plastic bags at the store but the environmental costs of each option are more complex (and contested) than they might at first appear: https://stanfordmag.org/contents/paper-plastic-or-reusable.

In a sense, in Namibia we often have our choices made for us because being somewhat off the beaten track, many of the solutions to issues that exercise the developed world are simply not applicable here. Unless you are tempted to try to make your own cotton buds from twigs and fluffy seed-heads, there’s only one option and that’s the plastic product in the supermarket (or mucky ears – yes, I know you’re not supposed to use them in there but it’s everyone’s guilty secret, isn’t it?)

In fact, visitors to Namibia often comment on how clean it is, and compared with most countries it truly is – a function of a tiny population, many of whom have limited access to manufactured products and their packaging and who anyway have a multitude of uses for things that most of us throw away, including building whole dwellings from discarded materials they go out and find.

An empty farm dam near Rehoboth, June 2019. Before the series of droughts hit Namibia, this would have been full of water by this time of the year.

But we do have terrible periods of drought (and then biblical floods), and I’m going to stick my neck out and state that our now-familiar extreme weather events are a result of climate change caused by human activity.We also have many, many people who were living in desperate conditions even before our rains began to fail a few years back and as is well-recognised, it’s the poorest members of any community who are at the sharp end when crops fail, cattle starve, shacks get blown down. Not to mention the spectre of unemployment that haunts families when farm labourers get laid off, as well as the subsequent urban migration that causes the collapse of already hard-pressed municipal services in major towns.

We don’t have heartbreaking photographs in our newspapers of our wild creatures trapped on shrinking ice floes, or tangled up in flotsam at sea but there are impacts from pollution, albeit on a smaller scale, and even in our back-of-beyond location, many are aware of the global consequences of the profligate use of non-renewable sources of energy (though I suspect it’ll be a while before electric cars can cover our vast distances and address the issue of only patchy rural electrification).

This Southern African python (Python natalensis) was found entangled in a nylon fishing net at the Gammans Wastewater Treatment Plant in Katutura, Windhoek in April 2019. The site is hardly an angling spot but we can assume that at some point in the past locals had been trying to supplement their diet by fishing there and this snake had ended up in the non-biodegradable net instead. Luckily it was rescued and received excellent medical care from Windhoek Animal Hospital (https://www.facebook.com/animalhosp/). For more details of the long road to recovery this animal faces, see the Facebook page for ‘Snakes of Namibia’: https://www.facebook.com/groups/187156948143224/ .

Thanks go to Merryl Butcher for the photo (and for rescuing the snake!)

Because of the economic downturn in Namibia, for which the drought is only partially responsible, the whole country has woken up to the fact that government cannot continue to distribute largesse in the form of jobs in its bloated bureaucracy, the public sector, with state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and on nice-to-have capital projects. Of course, large numbers of Namibians have been finding ways to put food on the table through informal-sector activities through generations but the need for people to exploit their entrepreneurial talents is more urgent now than ever before.

The pilot projects supported by ‘Good for Namibia!’ have to supply a regular source of income for those participating, not just occasional injections of cash here and there. Without guaranteed income, families cannot plan and businesses cannot grow. Pragmatic decisions will have be made so that the producers can continue to supply consumers – because a disappointed client is a client lost. Wherever possible, reasonable efforts will always be made to use donated, recycled materials for project products although certain fittings will, of necessity, have to be bought out of project funds, i.e., we cannot (and will not) claim that our products are 100% manufactured from locally sourced waste. Similarly, if a project temporarily lacks stock of some material essential to production, such as plain cotton lining for bags, then the group in question will make up the shortfall through stopgap purchases in order to meet demand.The projects will thus be able to continue to create re-usable items to substitute for those that would otherwise get thrown away until such time as their inventory is replenished.

We hope that this necessary compromise is understood and accepted by those purchasing the projects’ products.