Why every day should be environment day?

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In the first 6 months of this year, Sri Lanka has experienced a number of major events that demonstrate exactly how critical managing the environment is:  Drought, landslides, a garbage avalanche, flash floods — and many other events at scales that have not caught the attention of those not affected.  The damage to lives and assets, and the disruption to routines that make us who we are psychologically and spiritually is tough to live through and slow to reverse – if it ever does. 

So why would we leave thoughts on sustainable environmental management to just one single day a year?  We typically celebrate “Environment Day” by picking up rubbish around the city or from the rivers, or the sea; or by participating in a charity walk, or a charity run, and so forth.  The excitement builds, everyone engages and the next day everyone moves on to “more pressing matters” until the next calamity, and the blame game starts all over again.

Photo Credit: Mokshana Wijeyeratne

Let me assert the following key point: Nothing will change until we all see ourselves as part of the problem and part of the solution.  For many of these issues we can make a difference, every day!

Let’s talk trash.  We all of us generate rubbish at a private level, in our homes. Once we haul the garbage bags out it no longer exists as far as we are concerned.  In fact, it becomes a public issue. If we were to make the simple commitment to segregate our waste inside the home between biodegradable, recyclables, and residual waste, and if it was collected honoring these waste streams, and disposed of correctly, overall waste would be significantly reduced.  Even better, compost can be used to fertilize crops and gardens.

What about the rubbish that we throw away casually as we travel? It ends up in drainage systems, blocking them and exacerbating flooding and sewage releases; or disfiguring a country that rightfully prides itself on its beauty; in the seas and oceans where it degrades those environments too.  Should we really wait until Environment Day each time to then go and collect our rubbish? 

I would like to challenge every one of us to turn the inertia that sets in after Environment Day into action.

Here is my proposal.

Let’s support and challenge the Government to facilitate and strengthen environmental regulatory and policy-making. Let’s encourage them to invest in the infrastructure that supports on-going efforts to safeguard our environment; be it sanitary land-fills; small-scale irrigation schemes and reservoirs to stem droughts and store water for a dry day; and better regulation of biodiversity use, for example.  The private sector must step forward and bring their experience and financing to help the Government fund these investments.  Experiences from other countries show that there are parts of the waste management value chain that are sufficiently robust to return profits to financiers.  Schools must teach children better environmental awareness — children will carry these habits to adulthood.  While it’s important that NGOs retain their ability to contest what they see as wrong, it’s also important that they come closer to the Government to help develop and implement solutions.  Solving these issues may come with some discomfort. The Government will have to place infrastructure in someone’s neighborhood – one of the penalties of a fast growing economy where land is at a premium.  People may also need to be moved away from potential harm.  And, development partners may need to take up new areas of investments. 

Ultimately, there is need for clarity on what roles we — the public, the Government, the private sector, NGOs — can play to contribute to this complex agenda. We all must engage, though. If we let the environment become degraded, the local and global effects will be detrimental and very long lasting.  These problems could considerably reduce opportunities for future generations, as the impacts will affect economic growth, the safety of our hard earned assets, and even our life expectancies.

The environment does not remind us of its importance once a year; it does so daily. I yearn for a day when the most important news is not who dropped the ball, but how much — as a collective — we have achieved to better our environment; reducing loss of life, increasing the quality of life, and creating an environment that we are proud to leave for our children and their children.
This, will only happen if every day is Environment Day!  Happy World Environment Day.

Authors

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough

Country Director, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoros and Seychelles

Pawan G. Patil
June 05, 2017

Thank you for the reminder to us all that every day ought to be World Environment Day! You make a very important point about how to affect change, which resonated with me and many like me who are self-proclaimed citizen actionists! I'll paraphrase your point as individual responsibility, and indeed, individual action. We all know how powerful the action of a single individual can be. And many have become familiar with the phrase attributed to one remarkable South Asian change maker: 'be the change you would like to see in the world.' However, when it comes to action, many who would like to take action, hardly know where to begin. Many citizens feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of the challenge and wonder how their individual action can truly lead to a meaningful change. In my view, your blog is a reminder that even if daunting, we ought to try. Each of our global citizen WBG colleagues can indeed decide today, on World Environment Day, to at the very least, to be mindful of our environment each and every day. For those who are ready to truly act, pick one thing - even if it seems very small - and stick to it for 365 days. One year from now, each global citizen WBG staff who takes on this individual challenge can indeed call themselves an environmentally aware and active citizen actionist! Wishing everyone and our blue planet success. Science tells us its still not too late to improve our natural environment, and therefore the well-being of us all. Happy Environment Day.

Idah
June 06, 2017

Thank you Pawan! I totally agree. Just a little every day will be way more than one thing once a year. I know you one of those every day environment people.

SHIVAKUMAR
June 05, 2017

Good happy environment day

Idah
June 06, 2017

Thank you Shivakumar!

Grant Milne
June 05, 2017

Thanks for posting this thoughtful article from Sri Lanka. It is a similar situation in India. By comparison, I was in China in April and it was rare to see a scrap of paper on the street. Rwanda is much the same. I wonder what sets these two countries apart from so many others? Probably factors along the lines you have suggested - education from an early age, financial incentives for better waste management, enforcing penalties for littering, etc. Interesting to think about.

Idah
June 06, 2017

Hi Grant. I don't know, but truly there is a lot that needs to be done. Such a beautiful country.

S.Sujitha
June 07, 2017

Very useful article, Happy World Environment Day. First we need to take care of waste. The education system needs to include waste management on the syllabus. We need to take responsibility for the "5R's" Recycle, Reduce, Reuse Reproduce and Remove in Country policies. Government should give its commitment and support to care for the environment. WHO has the responsibility to monitor that every country follows the safe environment policies.

Parthiban
June 07, 2017

'Every day is environment day' because, without the environment we are nothing.Our lives are attached to the Environment. The Environment is the most important resource for life. We get water,power and Oxygen from the Environment. Saving the environment is important. So 'every day is environment day'

Devadas
June 11, 2017

Very true but people must adopt these good things in their day to day life or government must implement necessary action to protect the nature. Tomorrow is too late let us act today. Thanks for such a good article