Why we should take greater care of our environment
World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated every year on June 5 to raise global awareness of the vital need to take positive and urgent environment action. This critically important action is given global prominence and is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) whose Headquarters are in Nairobi, Kenya. The first World Environment Day was in 1973.
Despite great efforts being put in protecting our shared planet earth, there is a lot that is amiss. While this year’s World Environment Day celebration seeks to remind us of commitments by governments to make the earth a conducive place to live in, there are disturbing signs around the world that prove that we are already paying the price for not caring about our environment.
The environment should not be a lofty idea or fringe issue on the margins of international debate since it plays a more central role than ever before in debates on socio-economic development and human well-being.
An incident in Italy nearly nine years ago should help illustrate the critical importance of why we should endeavor to protect our environment. On September 28, 2003, the Italian people were in for a rude shock. At exactly 3a.m, Italian local time, somewhere near the Italian Alps, a tree, uprooted by strong winds, fell on a power line. Within thirty minutes or so, Italy and its nearly 60 million inhabitants found out as the Guardian observed, “the first time what it was to be collectively powerless”.
It was established in the course of the day that tens of thousands of people were stranded on trains, planes grounded across the country, traffic lights out of action, and hospitals forced to operate under emergency conditions. The question on everyone’s lips then was “how could this have happened to us”.
The question of “us” and “them” do not arise when it comes to environmental matters. What happened in Italy in the North is happening in the South but in a different manner. We experience rural poverty as a condition that is afflicting hundreds of millions of people in the developing world. In part this poverty is structurally induced and is attributed to socio-cultural, historical, demographic and understandably economic factors.
In many cases, it is also partly determined by environmental factors, such as the uneven physical quality and distribution of natural resources – a situation which is often aggravated by the unequal access of people to these resources, especially land.
Experts in matters of development have usually prescribed “a strong doze of development” in what is termed as the medicine of poverty alleviation.
Interestingly the modern medicine of development increasingly aims to avoid the ‘environmental side-effects’ which have more often than not accompanied the largely uncontrolled, growth-oriented development of the last few decades.
These environmental safeguards may, however, prove to be a mixed blessing for our rural poor, whose inherent awareness of exploitable limits of natural environment is increasingly by the more immediate need to satisfy the basic needs of life itself such as food, shelter, water and so on.
The question is, should environmental conservation, therefore, take precedence over poverty alleviation, given the nature and extent of Africa’s and indeed the rest of the developing world’s rural poverty and the glaring inequality in many less developed countries?
As the celebration euphoria of the World Environment Day subsides, “let us remember that our quality of life should depend on natural resources and the environment; they are the foundation of life. If we use and manage them in a sustainable way, they will continue to meet our needs for energy, food, minerals, fresh water, clean air and fertile soils, all of which are essential to enable us to continue to grow and prosper” as a Ghanaian minister, Ms Sherry Ayittey, recently put it.
Ultimately, whether you belong to the rich North or the developing South, we all share the same planet earth.
Contact email: oscar_kim2000[at]yahoo.co.uk