Photographic Exhibition Explores Environmental Devastation

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | iZiviso Global Editor At Large

Harare, Zimbabwe  – A hauntingly beautiful exhibition titled, “While We Wait”  which highlights the degradation of the earth’s resources opened to the public on World Environment Day, Tuesday in Harare.

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Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Environment and Natural Resources Management Minister Francis Nhema said that Zimbabwe needs a green economy.

The exhibition, which consists of a photographic and filmic depiction of the devastation of the earth’s resources, will run until June 20. The exposition by photographer Eric Gauss and filmaker Nigel Gullet, makes a provocative and abstract look at the impact of the abuse of the environment.

In one of the pictures titled “Drowning,” a little boy is shown drowning in litter, cans, cigarettes and a discarded computer monitor.

Also on showcase is a five-minute film which highlights the extent to which the earth’s resources are being abused.

European Union Ambassador Dr Aldo Allicio said that twenty years ago, in June 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development also known as the Rio Conference or the Earth Summit, the risks were clearly spelled out.

“In front of the gravity of the situation, 172 governments reached an agreement on the Climate Change Convention which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol. Fundamental documents were signed; important legally binding agreements were proposed to the stakeholders, like the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Other conferences followed and we are now preparing for RIO + 20,” he said.

“But “While we Wait”, as is the title of this beautiful exhibition, the ‘clock is ticking’ and our environment is increasingly threatened by the challenge between growth and sustainable use of natural resources. And it seems that sometimes selfish interests prevail.”

He added that there was a need for awareness and action in Zimbabwe on the environment.

“Zimbabwe is endowed by exceptional natural resources that if properly managed could be converted as a pillar for sustainable economic growth that reconciles the respect of pressing environmental concerns with the right of Zimbabwe to seek prosperity for its citizens. Unfortunately number of threats exists and need to be tackled urgently, in order to avoid that the blessing becomes a curse,” he said.

He pointed out that alarming deforestation that impacts on biodiversity and Zimbabwe carbon dioxide absorption capacity. He said that land degradation in arable land that reduces agricultural potential, biodiversity loss that undermines Zimbabwean natural heritage, water pollution that leads to environmental health diseases and climate change that weakens rain-dependant activities continue to pose challenges.

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Climate refugees: A 21st century challenge

In early 2008, Tsitsi Madavo, 67, was forced to abandon her village after a severe hailstorm hit Muzabarani, a village in central Zimbabwe, destroying her three huts, crops and livestock.

Every year, as in Muzarabani, environmental excesses around the world force millions of people to abandon their homes in search of places that are perceived to be safer. The impact of extreme weather will be felt more heavily among the poor and marginalized people.

Since time memorial, climate change processes have devastated human settlements, resulting in untold human suffering and vulnerability to poverty and disease. As the world increasingly grapples with the phenomena of climate change, there are fears that it will lead to the internal or international displacement or refugee situations.

There is scientific evidence that the number of people killed, injured or displaced as a result of unpredictable weather patterns has been on the rise in recent decades.

For instance, according to a report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year, it is likely that global warming will make future cyclones more intense, thereby worsening the magnitude of human suffering.

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Visionary Politics: Saving the Environment for Future Generations

Visionary

Visionary

Political leaders have a key role to play in developing and taking action to combat the world environmental degradation, according to a recent survey of 1,350 professionals in position to make or influence large climate-related decisions in their governments, companies, or other organizations across 120 countries.

The performance of key actors – particularly national governments – has been inadequate to date with rhetoric at much feted climatic conferences over-dominating action states the survey.

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Should US Have Higher Environmental Standards?

The US has in the past shown great moral strength, courage and sacrifice to respond to global crises but no so with the imminent threat of global climate change.

 

USA

 

Yet, in order to accelerate global efforts to protect the environment, the US must not only be held to a higher environmental standard than the rest of the world, it must also show greater commitment to a coordinated worldly response.

 

The statistics speak for themselves – the US produces a total of 5,410 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, almost a quarter of the global emissions, according to researchers. This makes the US the world’s leading polluter, making it imperative to hold the country to a higher environmental standard.

 

The impact of US emissions go far beyond its borders, changing climatic patterns in many parts of the world, and disrupting people’s lives.

 

The apparent lack of US enthusiasm to make the world greener is in a word detrimental to the agenda of protecting the global environment.

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Urban Growth in Africa and Asia

At almost every other corner in this sprawling city, there’s some banging and clanging as construction of new buildings takes place.

 

The pace of urban growth in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, is breath-taking.

 

Mary Poynter, a U.S. citizen who has been visiting this Northern Thai city for the past 30 years says the city has undergone a transfiguration since she first visited.

 

“I have been visiting this city for the past 30 years and today it’s not in any way near what it was then,” she said in an interview.

 

Karunee Wathinnee, a life-time resident of Chiang Mai, confirmed that there had been a lot of changes in the city, accompanied by an incursion of people from foreign countries.

 

“This city has changed a lot with new buildings coming up everyday, and there are also a lot of foreigners that are living in this city now. Many buildings are coming up, very tall buildings,” she said.

 

What is happening in this city is not happenstance; it mirrors what is happening in many cities across Asia and Africa, where there’s a growth explosion influenced by economic and development booms as many countries adopt new economic models.

 

Around the world, especially in developing countries, towns and cities are growing at a break-neck pace, with both negative and positive consequences for humanity.

 

Economic growth breeds urbanization and urban centers provide people with an escape route from poverty but, ironically, also serve as incubators of poverty for others.

 

According to a United Nation Population Fund report (UNPFA), between 2000 and 2030, Asia’s urban population is expected to increase from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion, Africa’s from 294 million to 742 million, and that of Latin America and the Caribbean from 394 million to 609 million.

 

This is enormous growth. If governments do not adopt appropriate policies, it spells disaster for the future with cities becoming havens of human strife, disease and insecurity.

 

“In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: for the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas,” says the report titled “State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth.”

 

“By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.”

 

But, surprisingly, 60 percent of the growth will be driven not by rural to urban migration but by higher rates in natural increase.

 

The report notes that a combination of the re-designation of formerly “rural areas” and residents as “urban” plus migration will account for 40 percent of the urban growth.

 

Increased crime, unorganized urban planning, slum dwellings, disease, poverty and environmental damage, among other issues, urbanization will put severe challenges on the plates of policymakers.

 

“The unprecedented urban growth taking place in developing countries reflects the hopes and aspirations of millions of new urbanites,” notes the report. “Cities have enormous potential for improving people’s lives, but inadequate urban management, often based on inaccurate perceptions and information can turn opportunity into disaster.”

 

Many of the people that will find themselves in urban centers will be the poor and voiceless. Migrants, for example, significantly expand urban populations and provide cheap labor but usually fall through the cracks, eventually becoming a security threat.

Women and children, key to the projected urban growth, remain largely out of the reach of key services, including health and education.

 

In many cities of the world, slums continue to crop up, and are significant havens of disease, crime and poverty.

 

“The poor settle in the worst living space, on steep hillsides or river banks that will be flooded, where nobody else wants to live and speculators haven’t taken control of the land,” the New York Times quoted George Martine, author of the report. “They have no water and sanitation and the housing is terrible. And this situation threatens the environmental quality of the city.”

 

The growth of urban areas will be a key definer of human development in the 21st century yet surprisingly little is being done to maximize the potential benefits of this transformation or to reduce its harmful consequences, notes the UNFPA report.

 

“Realistic planning for future urban growth calls for explicit consideration of the needs of the poor. It also requires gender analysis: The particular needs and capabilities of poor women and girls are often unaccounted for and assumed to be the same as those of poor men and boys,” says the report.

 

“And, as population structures change, attention to youth and the needs of the elderly will become ever more important.”

 

The report urges a rethink in urban planning policy to reflect the new dynamics of urban growth as well as to consider the needs of the poor and marginalized populations. 

Africa’s Quest for a Green Revolt

Early in the morning, Mary Kanyaire, 33, collects water and firewood, and then prepares a meal for her two school-going children before she heads out to the fields, approximately 3 kilometers away from her homestead.

 

Alone, under the hot sun, she weeds groundnuts in a sandy field with a hoe. Although she knows she will not get a good yield, she strives on, buckets of sweat pouring down her face.

 

For Kanyaire and millions like her, subsistence farming is the only source of survival and is practiced with absolutely no support from the government.

 

In recent years, climate change, which has resulted in an inconsistent rainfall pattern, has dealt a heavy blow to the prospects of subsistence farming.

 

Yet in Zimbabwe, as in many parts of Africa, the government offers little or no support to subsistence farmers, leaving them to the vagaries of the elements and economic and political shake-ups.

 

Agriculture in Africa is primarily a family activity, and the majority of farmers are smallholders who own between 0.5 and 2.0 hectares of land, as determined by socio-cultural factors.

 

Women provide about half of the labor force and produce most of the food crops consumed by the family.

 

Many of the men leave for urban areas in search of better opportunities, and when they make it in the city, they invest little in their rural areas.

 

In order to make agriculture work in the fight against poverty, African governments and donors must reverse years of policy neglect and remedy their underinvestment and misinvestment in agriculture.

 

According to the World Bank’s 2008 World Development Report titled “Agriculture for Development,” the “agriculture sector has been neglected by both governments and the donor community, including the World Bank.”

 

Despite rapid technological progress, in the 21st century, agriculture continues to be a fundamental instrument for sustainable development and poverty reduction, states the report.

 

“Three of every four poor people in developing countries live in rural areas — 2.1 billion living on less than $2 a day and 880 million on less than $1 a day — and most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods,” says the report.

 

Although agriculture alone cannot resolve the problem of poverty, “it has proven to be uniquely powerful for that task.”

 

“Agriculture contributes to development as an economic activity, as a livelihood and as a provider of environmental services, making the sector a unique instrument for development,” says the report. “Agriculture can be a source of growth for the national economy, a provider of investment opportunities for the private sector and a prime driver of agriculture-related industries and the rural nonfarm economy.”

 

The report emphasizes that the time has come time to place agriculture afresh at the center of the development agenda because “agriculture and its associated industries are essential to growth and to reducing mass poverty and food insecurity.”

 

However, in sub-Saharan Africa, a combination of technical, economic, social and political challenges have to be overcome to make agriculture key in reducing extreme poverty and hunger.

 

“Using agriculture as the basis for economic growth in the agriculture-based countries requires a productivity revolution in smallholder farming,” states the report.

 

“To influence Africa’s green revolution, a key priority is to increase the assets of poor households, make smallholders — and agriculture in general — more productive, and create opportunities in the rural nonfarm economy that the rural poor can seize,” adds the report.

 

Political willingness will be critical to making agriculture a source of empowerment for the often-marginalized rural smallholder farmers.

 

Also, Africa needs to take advantage of the available new technologies to boost its agricultural productivity. Although Africa can learn from the agricultural systems of other continents in the world, it is clear that a new paradigm will have to emerge in the continent — a new paradigm that takes into account the challenges such as climate change, as well as the new opportunities presented by technology.

 

African governments in partnership with donors need to invest heavily in the infrastructure of rural areas, which will include building new roads, access to electricity to improve access to markets among other issues. Without a green revolution, Africa will remain forever locked up in poverty.

 

And for Africa’s new generation, such as Kanyaire’s children, that green revolution is something that should be fought for to expand opportunities.

Why Asia’s Motorcycles Must Go Green

In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, motorcycles screech, drone, and dangerously define their way through cars, in the process, discharging a wide range of pollutants into the atmosphere and human lungs.

 

Motorcycles in this part of Thailand, as in many parts of Asia, are a basic form of transportation.

 

Motorcycles constitute 70 to 80 percent of the vehicular traffic fleet of Asia. As many parts of the region undergo economic boom, it is expected that the number of motorcycles will continue to grow which will significantly increase the emission of hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide.

 

According to the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, motorcycles produce 16 times the amount of hydrocarbons and three times the carbon monoxide emitted by a conventional passenger car.

 

The impact of motorcycle emissions on the environment as well as human health are severe and given the fact that motorcycles are widely accepted as a convenient and cheap mode of transport, there is little to no action being taken to combat their hazardous emissions either by citizens or governments.

 

In fact, in Chiang Mai, it appears that motorcycles have escaped environmental regulation, and it is not rare that a motorcyclist can be fined for not wearing a helmet as opposed to the amount of emissions that their motorcycle produces.

 

Besides the emission of pollutants, motorcycles also contribute significantly to noise pollution, a factor largely ignored by politicians and policy-makers.

 

A study conducted by the Asia Institute of Technology, Thailand in collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Studies, Japan revealed that “under business-as-usual conditions, regional emissions of sulphur dioxide are expected to increase fourfold by 2030 over those of 1990; while emissions of nitrogen oxides are expected to increase threefold.”

 

The omnipresence of motorcycles in the region contributes a huge chuck to the environmental pollution in the region and therefore an alternative transportation system needs to be incorporated into the overall, integrated package to deal with the problem.

 

According to an environment engineer with the World Bank, two and three-wheelers constitute three-fourths of the Asian vehicular fleet, and these emit up to 70 percent of the total hydrocarbons, 40 percent of the total carbon dioxide and a substantial part of the particulate pollution in the region.

 

Making matters worse, motor-cycles equipped with two stroke technology are inefficient at combustion and emit hazardous forms of unburnt hydrocarbons, which damage human lungs.

 

Investing in clean technology in indeed a key priority that governments in the region need to put high on the agenda for the sake of future generations.

 

Replacing two-stroke technology equipped motorcycles in favor of four stroke technology can significantly cut emissions in the region.

 

“On average, a motorcycle with a 4-stroke engine consumes 30 percent less than one with a 2-stroke engine. The emission of particulate matter from a 2-stroke engine is 1.0 gram per passenger kilometer whereas it is 0.2 grams per passenger kilometer for a 4-stroke one,” states the Asia Institute of Technology and National Institute of Environmental Studies report titled “Alternative Policy Study: Reducing Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific.”

 

The report adds that investing in non-motorised, public transport systems can save “significant quantities of energy and reduce pollution levels.”

 

There is also a need for increased public awareness of the damage that is caused by motorcycles to both the environment and human health so that more people can opt for options that are environmentally friendly.

 

A key indicator of Asia’s step towards a greener future will undoubtedly involve taming its wild motorcycle population.

 

And hopefully, in Chiang Mai, as in many cities across Asia, there will be less but clean-technology powered motorcycles weaving their way through the sea of equally clean technology powered vehicular traffic.