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Gasping for Breath: The Devastating Impact of Environmental Pollution in Botswana

Botswana is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa with a rich cultural heritage and an abundance of natural resources. However, in recent years, the country has faced a growing challenge of environmental pollution. From air pollution caused by mining activities and vehicle emissions to water pollution due to poor waste management, the impact of pollution on human health and the environment is becoming increasingly devastating. The situation has been worsened by climate change, which is exacerbating the effects of pollution. It is essential to understand the causes and effects of environmental pollution in Botswana and to explore innovative solutions to mitigate its impact on both the environment and public health.

The problem of solid waste in Botswana is a growing concern, particularly in urban areas where the population density is high. In some parts of the country, the sight of piles of discarded plastic bottles, polyethylene bags, crushed beer cans, beer bottles, and used baby diapers is becoming increasingly common on sidewalks, streets, and even in public spaces such as parks and playgrounds. The accumulation of solid waste not only presents an unsightly and unhygienic landscape, but it also contributes to air, water, and soil pollution. When solid waste is left untreated, it can release toxic substances and pollutants into the environment, leading to severe health problems for humans, domestic animals and wildlife alike. In addition, the degradation of natural habitats due to solid waste can impact biodiversity, disrupt the ecological balance and affect the overall health of the ecosystem. Hazardous waste or unsafe waste treatment such as open burning can directly harm waste workers or other people involved in waste burning and neighboring communities. Poor waste collection leads to environmental pollution and can block water drains. Resulting flooding and other standing waters in waste items favor vector-borne diseases.

Despite waste management laws that punish violators for improper waste disposal; roadsides, rivers and home surroundings across the country are increasingly becoming dumps of garbage and debris and offenders are getting away with it. The Waste Management Act explains that, “A person shall not deposit in any place anything which may contribute to the defacement of any place by litter, except as authorised by law or done with the consent of the owner or occupier of that place. (2) Subsection (1) applies to any public place and includes the following- (a) any highway or road; or (b) any place within the jurisdiction of a local council. (3) Any person who contravenes this section commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding P300 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two months or to both."

In a Committee of supply meeting, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Kgotla Kenneth Autlwetse said,"Mr Chairman littering, low waste segregation at household level and general poor handling of waste materials continue to be a challenge in our communities. My Ministry has partnered with the Ministries of Environment and Tourism, Transport and Public Works as well as Health, to address the problem. This is as a result of the realization that waste management issues affect all sectors of the economy and fragmented and individualistic approaches have not borne any fruits in the past."

Furthermore, the Minister further said, "To address mindset change, Mr. Chairman, the Ministries have bought time slots in radio stations and other media platforms to air messages addressing different aspects of waste management. It is anticipated that as the messages are intensified, communities will change attitudes towards waste management. This is in line with the new Waste Management Policy which is anchored on promoting a circular economy."

According to the Status of Air Pollution in Botswana and Significance to Air Quality and Human Health sources of pollution in Botswana include industrial operations, manufacturing, small-scale plants, smelters, stone/sand crushers, traffic emissions, waste and household fires. Household burning of fossil fuels remains a major energy source, as well as the increasing number of vehicles that lead to high levels of traffic-related pollution. Natural sources such as the Kalahari Desert and natural fire eruptions also contribute a significant amount of pollution. A vast amount of mineral dust is generated from the Kalahari, leading to increased windblown soil erosion, forest fires, and deforestation. Major pollutant sources include power plants, mines, and industries in major cities and towns. The Bamangwato Consolidated Limited copper-nickel mine and Selebi Phikwe are a major source of pollutants, as well as the Morupule Power Station, which generates electricity using pulverized coal. The country's increasing energy demand is projected to grow by 6% per annum, reaching 5,300 GWh in 2017.

BCL Selebi Phikwe 19D April 2016. Photo: Warwick Falconer

Environmental activists are raising concerns about the lack of concrete action being taken to address the environmental challenges faced by countries worldwide. They argue that it is time for governments and organizations to shift from merely talking about the need for sustainability to taking decisive action to address these challenges. In particular, environmental activists are advocating for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12, which focuses on responsible consumption and production. SDG 12 seeks to promote sustainable practices such as preventing waste generation, reducing the use of resources, and increasing recycling and reuse of materials. By implementing SDG 12, countries can achieve significant progress towards reducing their environmental impact while also promoting economic growth and social development.

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