Friday, October 19, 2007

Mossy nets and feeling good about Africa...

Any intervention into the lives of people and the environment is
subject to the law of unintended consequence.

In a country like Zambia, one of the best watered in Africa, and with a
fishery that was once the envy of all but which is now much
diminished due to the complete absence of any controls on fishing
- driven as it is by an insatiable and expanding urban market
for fish and bushmeat, the indiscriminate issue of three million or so
mosquito nets provides a significant environmental perturbation.

A friend reported to me that he had seen one such tapeworm of a net,
fully 100 yards long, the individual mosquito nets sown together, set
across a stretch of water, doubtless later being 'walked' across the
water by villagers, and all age classes of fish removed. And from all
over the country come reports of mosquito nets being used to catch
fish. And in these waters are crocodile, otter, water python, just
part of the myriad array of animals dependent on fish.

In the Luangwa and Luitikila rifts where our Trust is active, the fish
population is so reduced that we now, for the first time I can
remember, have people taken by crocodile in the dry season.

And one wonders at the effect of the insecticide treated net on all
life in the water, joining as it does the land-based poisoning of
vultures for their heads – sold to the muti trade, and of the scavengers
such as lion, leopard and hyena who then feed on the bait carcasses
laced with cotton insecticide.

Before any such massive intervention was contemplated, there should
have been an application made to the Environmental Council of Zambia
for net distribution and use, followed by an Environmental Impact
Assessment and advertisements in the press calling for public comment
on the short, medium and long term impacts.

Mosquito nets are needed here, as is a controlled DDT spraying
programme presently being carried out on a limited scale as allowed by
the Stockholm Convention. But one of the main factors ensuring the
continued ravages of malaria is that the prophylaxis and treatment
against malaria has - like HIV retrovirals, been poorly dealt with
leading to a loss of natural resistance to malaria by native Africans,
and their further resistance to the drugs of choice. And in any case,
as ludicrously claimed in the July issue of the National Geographic
magazine, drugs such as Coartem are not available to the people in
Zambia - and are certainly not free. And the nets, supposedly donated
to the people of Zambia, are being sold to them in the clinics at a
price higher than can be bought in the suq. Of course, the mossy net
thing, is all part of the donor/recipient problem...

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