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Cape Town — Outdoor spaces is what most people have been craving during the Covid-19 pandemic, when a series of lockdowns across the world forced countless people indoors. And these enforced restrictions on our movement have reignited many people’s appreciation for home, community gardens and public open spaces.

The fear of running out of food, and loss of income, shocked many people into putting their hands into the soil for the first time. Plus, of course, having the time to spend in green spaces after workplaces closed except for essential services.

But how many people actually have access to safe and clean spaces where they live or in their communities? Africa has countless examples of environmental abuses – from illegal logging and mining to the displacement of indigenous people. Some of the most high profile is the environmental damage caused by oil spills in Nigeria, more specifically the Niger Delta, and the impact on the livelihoods and movement of the people.

In Zambia, communities – especially children – have been suffering the effects of lead poisoning on their bodies due to a long-closed mine that continues to pollute the soil and water. An August 2019 report by Human Rights Watch saying that “more than one third of the population of Kabwe – over 76,000 people – live in lead-contaminated townships. Studies estimate that half of the children in these areas have elevated blood lead levels that warrant medical treatment”.

“The consequences for children who are exposed to high levels of lead and are not treated include reading and learning barriers or disabilities; behavioral problems; impaired growth; anaemia; brain, liver, kidney, nerve, and stomach damage; coma and convulsions; and death. After prolonged exposure, the effects are irreversible. Lead also increases the risk of miscarriage and can be transmitted through both the placenta and breastmilk.”

The UN Human Rights Council last week “recognised for the first time that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is indeed a human right”.

For more recommendations, read the report.