Developing countries to-day face the twin crises of environmental deterioration and maldevelopment more seriously than ever before. This is despite so many U.N. World conferences including Rio Summit on Environment and Development (1992) and the Copenhagen social Summit (1995).
Concern has been raised at these U.N. conferences by political leaders and vociforous citizen groups, showing that there is no lack of concern.
But the more powerful forces and institutions that represent the dmominant trend of globalization and liberalization overwhelm the efforts of the environmentally conscious and those who care about eradicating poverty.
The third world countries are sinking deeper into environmental problems although global and national knowledge about ecology has grown manifold in the last two decades.
In Asian region alone the major problems are:
850 million hectares of soil that is degraded is in Asia and the Pacific accounting for 24 percent of the regions land.
Deforestation remains one of the major environmental issues in Asia due to industrialization, agricultural expansion and forestry product trade. Deforestation in the Asia Pacific region increased from 2 million hectares per year during 1976-81 to 3.9 million hectares per year during 1981-90. Tropical forest area decreased by 6.7 percent during 1981-90 and natural tropical forest area by 11.1 percent, the highest rate observed for this type of forest as compared with other regions.
Increasing water scarcity is the likely scenario for many countries in Asia. Fresh water availability of below 1000 cubic meters per capita per year indicates water scarcity. Singapore is already water scarce, while Iran and India are heading in that direction. Atmosphere
The rapid 3.6 percent annual growth of every demand for the whole region in 1990-92 is an important implication of economic growth in Asia; Urban air pollution is serious in many major cities in the region, while health threats arise from indoor pollution. Acid rain has emerged as a significant problem.
The drive for increased agricultural production has resulted in the loss of genetic diversity. The flora and fauna of region are threatened now more than ever before. India is expected to produce 75 percent of its rice with just 10 varieties by 2005, as compared to 30,000 varieties traditionally cultivated; 1500 varieties of rice disappeared in Indonesia during 1975-90. Due to coastal habitat loss and degradation marine biodiversity is also being lost
URBAN AND INDUSTRIAL ENVIRONMENTS
Urbanization generates the environmental stress with region which is related to poverty as well as economic growth and affluence. The rise of cities has been accompanied by a proliferation of slums and squatter settlements without access to basic infrastructure, clean water and sanitation, with associated health risks; the lack of basic infrastructure also results in local environmental degradation.
Mean-while urban environmental problems resulting from growth and affluence include congestion, increasing air and water pollution, loss of productive agricultural land, loss of coastal habitats to conversion and land reclamation over extraction of ground and water resources resulting in land subsidence, and deforestation as a consequence of increased demand for construction timber.
This information gives just a few slices of the environmental challenges before us.
Bearing the main brunt of the problems are the local communities and the poor, who live close to the natural environment and whose land, forests and resources are being negatively affected by the forces of global and national commerce. The communities and groups in developing countries which are adversely affected by globalization and commercialization are: –
Local Communities in rural and urban areas which have to make way for development projects as economic growth and modernization continues to sweep across the region. These include farmers and indigenous people making way for large dams, mining projects, logging of forests, Conversion of land to plantations and urban settlers and squatters who have to make way for urban projects such as highways, golf courses & hotels, office buildings and housing estates.
Rural Villagers and Urban squatter areas near toxic dumps or hazardous industries which are usually located in areas where the poor communities live, and workers facing hazards at the work-place including toxic chemicals, heavy metals and dangerous work processes.
Small farmers who may find that, as a result of agricultural liberalization, they will have to reduce the prices of their products (thus reducing their net incomes) some of them) may have to close their farms as being uncompetitive.
Govt. and public employees (including of public enterprises) who face retrenchment from their jobs as a result of privatization, Lower income and poor consumers who may no longer be able to receive the same level of subsidised health care, water supply, housing or welfare services as Governments reduce or eliminate social spending or change their financing system towards the cost recovery and the user must-pay approach.
Because of poverty and the unemployment situation, many children are forced to work, often in conditions of misery; while many women are pressurized into prostitution.
The ecological crises continues to unfold at breakneck speed under the influence of commercial interests, now driven even further by the competitive pressures of globalization. At the same time the globalization process has pitted company against company, country against country and individuals against one another. Under the vicious fight for market shares and for profits to survive globalization and liberalization have replaced every environmental and social item on the high priority agenda list. More-over because of its unequal nature, globalization may benefit a small number (of countries, of people) but alienates, marginalizes and even impoverishes large number of countries and peoples.
Some years ago, at the Earth Summit, 1992, hopes had been high that the world’s political leaders had at last recognized the environmental crises and would take steps to forge a new North South partnership to tackle both environmental and development problems together in a package and through a comprehensive plan.
Ten years later, these hopes seem to have vanished. The RIO plus Five Summit at the U.N. in New York concluded in June 1997 without a political statement because the divide between North and South countries was too wide to bridge.
In the years after the RIO Summit the environment has dropped many notches down the global and national agendas. More-over, “development” by which is meant the solidarity or partnership shown towards people in developing countries to help them eradicate poverty and social ills, is also fast vanishing as a principle and an agenda item, in the countries of the North and thus in the international agenda.
The major reason is that, in the years after RIO the process of globalization linked to liberalization has gained so much force that it has undermined, and is undermining, the sustainable development agenda. Commerce and the perceived need to remain competitive in a global market and to pamper and cater to the demands of the companies and the rich have become the top priority of Govt. in the North and some in the South. The environment welfare of the poor, global partnership have all been dislodged and sacrificed in this wave of free market mania.
However there are thousands of gras-root movements & groups that have taken their own initiative to fight for their survival, livelihoods or the larger public cause. These are the groups and the heroes and heroines of sustainable development that include:-
The indigenous people of the rainforests, who are desperately guarding sometimes with their lives the remainder of the world’s rain forests.
The local communities and environment activists of the North who are also fighting to save the remains of their old forests from the logger’s axe, who are bravely battling the toxic dumps and hazardous industries located in their neighborhood.
The communities in every region that have had to bravely defend their lands, homes and resources from the encroachment of commercial interests and big billion dollar projects that all too often run out to be economically unviable and ecologically destructive creating millions of environmental refugees.
The thousands of farmers around the world, who have suffered from the ill effects of Chemical based agriculture, have switched to organic farming on their own, and are rebuilding the land, despite the lack of support from the agriculture establishment.
The consumers and consumer movements that are fighting against unhealthy products and unsustainable consumption patterns who campaign for breast-feeding instead of baby foods, who raise the alarm over hazardous pesticides and pharmaceutical drugs dumped into the third world who have taken the tobacco industry to courts & faced it, in the U.S at least its liability and pay billions of dollars in compensation, and to agree to request that the Govt. regulate their behavior.
The individuals, the campaigners and two scientists who are exposing the dark side of genetic engineering in the midst of the industry media hype, and who are waging a campaign against the patenting of life and the cloning of natures creation.
The women, who are all too often in the forefront of the communities fight for survival, hugging the trees to prevent their being chopped, standing with the men to face the bulldozer, fighting against toxic industries and dumps to prevent the poisoning of children.
The brave ordinary, people, often the poorest and most humble of their societies are the true practitioners and the real heroes of the sustainable development that the rest of us only talk about. They are in the forefront of the battle to defend their rights and to save not only their world but our world and on our behalf, always with hardship and bravery, and some-time paying with their lives.
These hundreds and thousand of local community leaders and the millions of ordinary people around the world have provided us the hope that something is being done to save the earth in other words to give chance to earth to live the life ordered to it.