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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

African churches work to counter pressures on Congo River basin

The Congo River basin, which spans six African countries, is coming under pressure, partly due to clearing of the forests for subsistence agriculture, large-scale farming, illegal logging and lack of clear reforestation policies.

Even as the Catholic churches in the basin stress the need to care and protect the environment, Congolese bishops and officials warn that the forest is disappearing, little by little.

“The uncontrolled industrial and artisanal logging of timber is a big challenge. In addition, the waters are not sufficiently protected,” said Henri Muhiya Musabate, national secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Natural Resources of the Congolese Catholic bishops’ conference. “We deplore the pollution by extractive companies, but also by household waste, especially plastics.”

Musabate said changes in the daily lives of people in the basin raise questions as well as certain awareness. He said the Church has observed disruption of seasons, massive flooding, and drought in the northeast parts of the country. At same time, cattle herders from Central African Republic and Chad have invaded the basin’s forests, looking for pasture and water for their livestock.

Rivers in the Congo basin are affected. The flow of the Ubangi River – the largest tributary of the Congo River – has declined in the past few years. On the side of the mouth of the Congo River, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean rise, year after year, Musabate said.

Consumption of firewood in cities where there is low coverage of electricity is a challenge, because the basin’s trees being are exploited to feed the increasing demand. People living in the forest areas are cutting down trees to grow food in areas they consider fertile.

Picture: A boy walks through long grass along the road in Kasansa, Congo, on 9th April 2019. The Congo River basin, which spans six African countries, is coming under pressure, partly due to clearing of the forests for subsistence agriculture, large-scale farming, illegal logging and lack of clear reforestation policies. (CNS photo/Sam Phelps, courtesy Catholic Relief Services).