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Why do we celebrate World Environment Day? By Aamir Kabir

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On December 15, 1972, the United Nations General Assembly designated June 5 as World Environment Day, to deepen public awareness of the need to preserve the environment. That date was chosen because it was the opening day of the United Nations conference on the human environment that led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Since then each year, the main international celebrations take place in a different location with a specific theme. This year the main site for this event was Beirut (Lebanon) and this year’s theme is "Water- two billion people are dying for it". 5th June 2003 is the 30th World Environment Day to be celebrated.

This is the first time in the history that World Environment Day celebrations are being held in an Arab country. The theme for this year calls on each of us to help safeguard the most precious source of life on our planet. The theme of this year has been chosen to support the United Nations international year (2003) of fresh water.

The purpose of World Environment Day is to give a human face to environmental issues and to empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development. It is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action.

The environmental problems faced by the world today are painfully familiar. Rather these are getting worse day by day. Despite the Earth Summit, and despite success stories like the Montreal Protocol to protect the Ozone Layer, human beings continue to plunder the global environment. We are failing to protect resources and ecosystems. We are failing to invest enough in alternative technologies for betterment of environment.

Understanding of the environmental challenges we face is alarmingly low. It is imperative that environmental issues must be fundamentally repositioned in the policy-making arena. The environment must become better-integrated into mainstream economic policy of every country. The Governments must not only create environmental agreements, they must strictly enforce them as well.

Our environment continues to face serious environmental degradation making situations unbearable to live in. Man is armed with both weapons of destruction and also those of construction and development. Unknowingly, man's weapons of reconstruction and development have negative consequential results affecting us in different ways. A refinery is producing fuel for all our needs but the same refinery is polluting our atmosphere, as well, making habitation unbearable. Vehicles carry us to any destination but same vehicles fill our atmosphere with carbon monoxide, which can equally kill us.

Testing of chemical, biological and nuclear military weapons has created an irreversible disaster for our environment and atmosphere. There is a lot of finger pointing when it comes to environmental issues. There seems to be a tug of war between developed and developing countries. The developed countries blame it on the developing world, by citing areas such as over population and illiteracy for environmental degradation. Developing countries, however, argue that developed countries are the ones that throw their wastes in lakes, seas, oceans, deserts and in forests. It is they that pollute the air from their big factories and industries. It is they that test weapons in the oceans and deserts.

Climate change represents a serious threat to every part of the globe, and it would be ridiculous to believe that this is just another issue being pushed by the developed countries down the throats of the developing world. It must be borne in our mind that living in a clean and better world will improve life for all of us, no matter where we live.

Time to avert some environmental crises is fast running out. Water, a principal indicator of development and environmental quality, is one of these. Water issues highlight the need to shift our policies and efforts away from short-term measures to clean up environmental mistakes. The magnitude of this crisis is clearly seen in the fact that every year humans around the world use 160 billion tonnes more water than is replenished, yet 1.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water; annually there are 250 million cases of water-borne disease with 10 million reported deaths.

Pakistan covers 0.7 percent of the world’s land area, but accounts for a little over 2 percent of the world’s population. With a fast depleting natural resource base, inadequate social services, and an arid or semi-arid climate where health issues remain a predominant concern, Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of environmental degradation.

Until a decade ago, there was very little understanding of the financial, social and health effects of environmental degradation and the subsequent costs they impose on the economy. As environmental concerns and assessment of impacts of environmental degradation gained prominence globally, understanding of these issues has increased in Pakistan, prompting government as well as civil society institutions to focus on understanding and dealing with them.

Pakistan’s premier environmental policy document, commonly known as National Conservation Strategy (NCS), published in 1992. However, the initial momentum unleashed during the process of the Strategy’s formulation has not been carried through to the implementation stage as yet and much still remains to be done to conserve the environment. Government, non-governmental organizations, the business community, and private citizens will have to be necessary partners if we are to face environmental challenges.

World Environment Day needs not to be seen just a day set aside in a year to discuss, undertake and solve environment issues as they affect the world. But the day must continue to be everyday. It should not be just one day in a week, month, a year or decade but every day of our lives.

We should celebrate our accomplishments of World Environment Day and do so with a renewed sense of purpose and energy. The challenge is how can we discuss, experiment and improve the environment through this single day set aside in a year. To most of us, if the day is over, environmental issues are suspended till the next World Environment Day. We need to change such callous attitude for a clean future.

Rather, we need to examine critically the state of our environment and to consider carefully the actions which each of us must take, and then address ourselves to our common task of preserving all life on earth.