Today is World Environment Day :
Think before you eat and help save our 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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])