Ensure Environmental Sustainability

In addition to understanding and improving the basic needs and rights of human beings, all nations and their people must be aware of the fate of the planet Earth. For some time now, the planet has deteriorated to the point of species becoming extinct everyday. Dead zones exist within our oceans, very few rain forests remain, and basic habitats for animals have all but disappeared. Pollution and smog are dangerous problems to mankind, toxic carcinogens are in the water supply, the air and the atmosphere consequently, contaminating the fresh foods we eat everyday.

And while richer countries believe that they are coping with these issues and taking steps to reverse the trends of destruction, poorer countries are impacted more negatively causing them even more suffering and pain. As industrialized waste is dumped into areas in which the citizens have no control or they permit the practice because they need the money, poverty, disease and illness continue to permeate their lives. For poorer nations, reversing the damage is greater since basic necessities are required.

But in reality, preserving the environment and forcing countries to recognize the destruction will actually help to improve the condition of so many lives. In fact, the first six goals would be useless if the Earth is so damaged that people cannot live here. So the seventh goal of the MDGs has four targets upon which to work.

Target 1: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources

Target 2: Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss

Target 3: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation

Target 4: By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers

Sub-areas that must also be discussed and ultimately addressed are:

  • Proportion of land area covered by forest
  • CO2 emissions
  • Consumption of ozone-depleting substances
  • Proportion of fish stocks within safe biological limits
  • Proportion of total water resources used
  • Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected
  • Proportion of species threatened with extinction
  • Proportion of population using an improved drinking water source
  • Proportion of population using an improved sanitation facility

Many wonder what preserving the planet and reducing slum dwellers have in common. One of the biggest problems that affects both issues, is the rapid growth of urbanisation. It is obvious that as urban areas develop, damage is done to the environment from altering and ruining the natural habitat of many species but also damage is done to human beings by creating a bigger divide between the “haves and the have-nots”. Referred to as “the urban poor”, too many people are left to live in slum conditions without the same access to basic needs as the people who have cold, hard cash in developed areas or recipients of government grants and subsidies living in rural areas.

And we cannot deceive ourselves, as the situation is getting worse. More and more people are living in deplorable conditions throughout the world. So while targets have been set and individual cases show that progress can be made, the circumstances are dire enough that if we, as a planet, do not take hold of this emerging trend, the small, positive steps will seem fruitless.

But in order to inspire others and provide hope, it is better within the framework of this discussion to highlight the stories that do make a difference in people's lives.

  • In attempt to provide something as simple as working toilets so that the inhabitants of slums are not forced to defaecate in the streets, according to Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), “Federations in India, Cambodia, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda have brokered deals with local authorities to design, construct and maintain toilet blocks”. This helps the individual people of the slums as they experience better health and nicer environments plus, it gives the people pride in their work. They are learning a trade while improving their own situations. Says a leader in Pune, India, "in the beginning, we did not know what a drawing or a plinth was. We did not understand what a foundation was or how to do plastering. But as we went along, we learnt more and more and now we can build toilets with our eyes closed”.
  • Earlier this year, UN-HABITAT launched a project in the Lake Victoria region (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda) “to help accelerate access to improved sanitation for poor women and vulnerable households through a micro credit/revolving fund scheme”. With many governments and other organizations involved, the project should provide better sanitation to approximately one hundred thousand inhabitants.
  • The Africa Bio-Fuels and Renewable Energy Fund was created to help secure investor funds for projects in renewable energy. While parts of Africa are rich in natural resources, investors are reluctant to spend money due to perceived risk. Thus, ABREF allows Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries to significantly participate in the Clean Development Mechanism.

Footnote: Targets and sub-areas obtained from United Nations website.

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