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YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Members of the Pan-African Association of Exegetes have urged African governments, peoples, and businesses to take environmental protection as a divine mandate.

They made the call at the end of their 20th congress that took place Sept. 3-10, in Mauritius.

The organization of African biblical scholars described Africa as the epicenter of biodiversity in a Sept. 16 statement.

“We marvel at Africa’s immense wealth of ecological biodiversity, and Africa, our continent, is recognized as the continent with the greatest biodiversity in the world,” the statement says.

“Many African countries are home to the world’s largest species of plants and animals, often inhabiting the same ecosystem.”

There are over a million animal species and 45,000 tree species on the continent.

However, that ecological wealth has come under severe threat. In 2008, UN geographers constructed an African atlas of environmental change, and it showed a disturbing degree of environmental degradation.

The geographers noted “the swell of grey-colored cities over a once-green countryside; protected areas shrinking as farms encroach upon their boundaries; the tracks of road networks through forests; pollutants that drift over borders of neighboring countries; the erosion of deltas; refugee settlements scattered across the continent causing further pressure on the environment; and shrinking mountain glaciers.”

In their statement, the biblical scholars noted that most African cities are built on slums and ghettos where human beings face unimaginable health risks.

“This has made it difficult to eliminate some diseases and has created an environment for new ones. Currently, Africa remains at the bottom of the global poverty index despite all its natural and human wealth,” their Sept. 16 statement said.

The scholars then pointed to the pollution causing this state of affairs.

“These include reckless abuse of the ecosystem and environmental degradation at various levels, such as air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, noise pollution and loss of value to the ecosystem and human life at all levels,” the statement says.

“The fact is that as long as human beings obey God’s word, the cosmos will continue to function well. The creation stories in Genesis 1-3 and Psalm 8 offer a scenario where God charges human beings to be responsible stewards of creation and to promote eco-justice in a broken world,” it continued.

“There is much that we can learn from the Bible in our efforts to address the myriad ecological challenges in Africa,” the scholars said.

“Although the biblical understanding of creation is a largely religious perspective, employing various literary forms in its content, it does not necessarily contradict the authentic scientific view. Rather, it offers the theological and ethical foundations of the scientific perspective,” they explained.

They said the Bible helps man understand that “creation is a gift from God and the ‘book of nature’ for hearing God’s word and praising Him.”

They added that they see the Bible as the “fundamental book of life and the greatest source of our understanding of the nature of God and the way God relates to the whole of creation.”

“As African biblical scholars, we see it as our responsibility to present this biblical perspective on ecology as an answer and as a solution to many ecological challenges on the African continent.”

Urging “ethical responsibility and developmental governance” in the way man uses the environment, the exegetical association – that includes bishops, priests and nuns – the bishops called on African governments and leaders “to develop policies that protect the environment and its biodiversity for the betterment of life on the continent.”

They also called on businesses and multinationals operating in Africa “to be more environmentally friendly and ecologically sensitive in the way they operate, and to work towards the overall improvement of creative harmony on the continent and the conservation of its rich biodiversity.”

They said the evident interdependence between man and nature calls for “a greater commitment to the care of the ‘common home’ and a greater zeal to guard and preserve all the diverse creatures that share the earth with us. This was the divine mandate to creation, which is also addressed to Africans in a special way.”

Dr. Richard Munang, the Deputy Regional Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Africa Office, told Crux the biblical scholars’ statement was important.

“Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century,” he said.

“It’s a matter of collective survival. As a global community, we either all survive the climate change apocalypse, or we all continue to suffer from its perils and eventually perish,” he said.