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Wednesday, 5 June 2013






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Today is World Environment Day :

Think before you eat and help save our environment !

World Environment Day(WED) is today. This year’s theme is “Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Foodprint”. The main national ceremony in Sri Lanka in this connection organised by the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy will be held at Temple Trees, Colombo. The following article is based on this year’s theme.

World Environment Day(WED) is celebrated every year on June 5 to raise global awareness of the need to take positive environmental action. It is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The WED is held today for the 40th time, the first having been held in 1973. WED, also popularly known as Environment Day, is a means to tackle environmental challenges that include climate change, global warming, disasters and conflicts, harmful substances, environmental governance, ecosystem management and resource efficiency.

Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa inspecting a garden project in Anuradhapura.

It was the day that United Nations Conference on the Human Environment began. The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was from 5–16 June 1972. The UN took the decision to hold the summit on December 3, 1968. The first World Environment Day was in 1973. The Earth Day which American Senator Lord Nelson initiated on April 22, 1970 contributed significantly to the success of the Stockholm summit.

This was the zenith of environmental campaigning and is considered by some to be the beginning of the modern environmental movement. “Stockholm was without a doubt the landmark event in the growth of international environmentalism”, writes John McCormick in the book Reclaiming Paradise. “It was the first occasion on which the political, social and economic problems of the global environment were discussed at an intergovernmental forum with a view to actually taking corrective action.”

New economic outlook

Issues pertaining to the environment were included in the world agenda under the direction of Canada’s Maurice Stone at the Stockholm summit where the environmental problems relating to development activities in what was then the Third World were highlighted.

Among the major decisions taken at the summit were that development should be linked to the natural environment; that international nuclear testing should stop and that developing countries should be provided with economic assistance for environmental projects. Attention was drawn to global environmental issues at this summit which inspired the UNEP and opened avenues for the birth of leading environment organizations worldwide.

Among these ‘CHIPCO’ - which began in the Himalayas, India on March 26, 1974 - too contributed to the strengthening of the environmental movement. The United Nations report issued in 1987 after the UN’s decision on 1983 to establish a Global Commission on Environment and Development led to a great awakening on environmental issues. The Commission’s chairperson was the then Norwegian Prime Minister Dr. Groharlen Brundtanld.

The report focusing on our common future emphasised the need for a new economic outlook based on a stable policy of utilizing natural resources in an environmental-friendly manner.

The Commission proposed long-term environmental strategies that would ensure stable development beyond the year 2000. It drew attention to population, human resources, food security, environmental systems, power and energy, industries and challenges of urbanization among other issues. I believe that several books such as Silent Spring and Limits of Development specially contributed to the current interest in environmental issues at both national and international levels.

Decisive action was taken in this context at the UN Environmental and Development Summit or the Earth Summit held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992. A number of resolutions adopted at this summit and included in Order Agenda 21 were implemented. This was followed by the Global Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg, South Africa, June 2002.

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day celebrations is “Think.Eat.Save”. Think.Eat.Save is an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages you to reduce your foodprint. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted. This is equivalent to the same amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.

Given this enormous imbalance in lifestyles and the resultant devastating effects on the environment, this year’s theme – Think.Eat.Save – encourages you to become more aware of the environmental impact of the food choices you make and empowers you to make informed decisions. While the planet is struggling to provide us with enough resources to sustain its 7 billion people (growing to 9 billion by 2050), FAO estimates that a third of global food production is either wasted or lost. Food waste is an enormous drain on natural resources and a contributor to negative environmental impacts.

If food is wasted, it means that all the resources and inputs used in the production of all the food are also lost. For example, it takes about 1,000 litres of water to produce 1 litre of milk and about 16,000 litres goes into a cow’s food to make a hamburger. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions from the cows themselves, and throughout the food supply chain, all end up in vain when we waste food. In fact, the global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 70% of fresh water consumption, 80% of deforestation, and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is the largest single driver of biodiversity loss and land-use change.

The Beautiful Gampaha Programme

To make WED a success not only the government’s participation but also that of the public, citizens groups and voluntary organizations is essential. A framework should be prepared to achieve WED goals. For example, the ‘Beautiful Gampaha programme’ has been launched to carry forward environmental conservation with a clearer vision under guidance by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa. The Beautiful Gampaha programme aims to control floods, develop paddy cultivation for ensuring food security, improving bio-diversity of the area and creating a healthy community by protecting the natural environment. Protection of marshes and wetlands will help to purify water resources.

The Gampaha District is experiencing rapid urbanisation and the Gampaha town is fast developing. The programme is facing a major challenge in preventing natural disasters like the floods which the people of Gampaha experienced recently. The Beautiful Gampaha programme also hopes to increase incomes of families by encouraging home gardening and boosting production by helping cultivation in unused lands. People have a good knowledge of natural resources and it needs to be properly utilized.

This means protecting both the material and nonmaterial aspects of the environment. De-forestation, soil erosion, water and air pollution, improper garbage disposal and wrong use of chemicals are daily affecting people’s lives. Natural resources belong to the people. Rulers are only their trustees.

Destruction of different life forms threatens the entire global environmental system, revealing the fragile nature of biodiversity. For over 2500 years we in Sri Lanka never engaged in agricultural systems that led to the destruction of living beings. The guidance of the Buddha Dhamma is invaluable in this context. We have no need to learn about biodiversity from Western sources since colonialism and globalization did the greatest harm to our natural environment.

The Biodiversity

The richer the biodiversity in a country greater is the number of life forms there. Examples are the different life forms associated with corals, mountains, rain forests, dry zone jungles and other types of forests. The increase or decrease of these creatures therefore depends on environmental factors.

The countries that are rich in biodiversity are located in the tropics. The main reason for this is high rain fall and sufficient sun light, the two of which are most vital for different plants and other varied life forms associated with them. As people living in the tropics we have historically benefited immensely from it especially in 900 BC when Anuradhapura was a commercial paradise, epitomising a great civilization. There was a massive demand for our spices.

Our ancestors at the time had the resources to build one of the world’s highest constructions - the Jethawanaramaya in Anuradhapura. In that era the only other tall structures were the pyramids of Egypt. However the technology used in building the stupa or dagobas in Sri Lanka was different to that used in the construction of pyramids. The scientific basis of our ancient irrigation systems too are clear evidence of the right economics rooted in the island’s rich biodiversity.

On this WED we are joining the people of the rest of the world to make its theme a reality. We should return to an environmental-friendly life style. We should revive our traditional knowledge. Instead of just talking of the environment only on WED, we should commit ourselves to realizing its objectives throughout the year.

Leading an environmental-friendly life means the only way of protecting the earth. It is only then that new avenues will be opened towards sustainable development.( The writer is an environmental journalist who could be reached at [email protected])



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