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Finding the Pathway to a Healthy Environment for All

Nabul River. Source: Friends of Loktak Pat FB
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Many of the rivers have become highly polluted, and among these, the river Nambul deposits huge amount of pollutants directly into the freshwater Loktak Lake each year without stop.

By Salam Rajesh

The debates on climate emergency and the need for the world community to push for a clean, green and healthy Earth to secure the future of the blue planet is now doing the rounds in the corridors of the largest global platform – the United Nations.

An Expert Seminar on the UN Recognition of the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment (8 October, 2021) moved by David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, and the UN Environment Program, pushed for a general consensus on the call for a universal recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

In this context, the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations made a proposal last year to accord recognition to the Right to a Healthy Environment (R2HE), which is being pushed forward as key in addressing the environmental crisis globally, including ecosystem degradation and halting the process of negative human interventions – more particularly the so-said developmental agendas that do not commit to ecological and environmental demands.

The HRC proposal comes as fallout of the long standing and widespread demand from the various quarters, including civil societies, Indigenous groups, youths, businesses, UN agencies and many more – for the recognition to the Universal Right to Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment.

The HRC opines that such a socio-political recognition is definitely important in establishing a common standard of achievement for Governments to ensure a sustainable world for all and to strengthen accountability in governance and administration towards achieving the goals set.

On 12 April earlier this year, the Core Group of the HRC – comprising the Governments of Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland – announced that they are beginning the process towards recognizing the right to a healthy environment at the 76th session the UN General Assembly (June 2022). India, unfortunately, is not there amongst the 100 countries which have backed the resolution so far.

In this global context, when it comes to deliberations on how far the State of Manipur has addressed this concept of ‘clean, healthy and sustainable environment’, it may be fairly said that during these past four decades, there has been little or less of the policy planning on tackling the worst case scenario that confronts the State on different environmental aspects.

To take up a case study that is quite familiar with most people in the State, it is being seen that many of the major rivers and their tributaries flowing in the State are gradually losing their grip on their environmental flow. One of the primary reasons cited is the absolute depletion of tree cover in their catchments, wherein the watersheds are degraded to a level where they are unable to sustain the springs.

The other factor concerned with rivers is the amount of pollution load that is deposited upon them as they flow through the urban areas in the absence of State’s mechanism for monitoring and checking such abuse of the rivers. Many of the rivers have become highly polluted, and among these, the river Nambul deposits huge amount of pollutants directly into the freshwater Loktak Lake each year without stop.

The obvious fallout is that the rivers have become unusable, unsustainable and prone to drying up in the lean season particularly, impacting the lives of river dependent local communities. The process also underlines the negative impact on the microorganisms, fish and other animals that thrive in rivers, and in the long run impacting the river ecosystem to a degree where ‘sustainability’ becomes a thing of the past.

This equally speaks for the numerous wetlands and other water bodies in the State that are in conditions of extreme danger of losing out to anthropogenic interventions through the past decades. Wetlands are identified as good carbon sinks, implying that they are one of our biggest natural assets in fighting back global warming, and so losing them can mean inducing extreme weather and climatic conditions at the micro level, and regionally.

The call of the Core Group of the HRC reflects the concerns at both local and global context on the experiences of extreme weather and climate conditions in the different pockets of the globe, such as the extreme wildfires that lashed Australia and western parts of the United States recently, or the increasing phenomena of cyclonic storms in the Asia-pacific region.

The 1-trillion tree plantation drive in Africa with their Green Wall initiative is just one of the several initiatives being taken up across the globe in a bid to usher in clean, healthy environment on the one hand while tackling the call for climate mitigation to thwart global warming and the threat of an ever increasing global temperature rise.

Chirping in over the Core Group’s push for gaining ground on the R2HE, more than 140,000 children, young people and allies from 144 countries have signed a petition calling for their right to a healthy environment to be recognized. Additionally, around 1,300 civil society organizations, social movements, local communities, and Indigenous Peoples worldwide have endorsed a letter calling on the UN Human Rights Council to urgently recognize the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

The call is backed by 15 UN Entities who shared a statement calling on UN Member States to formally recognize the right to a healthy environment on a global level. Similarly, a global initiative of 50 businesses and business organizations united to call for the adoption of the right to a healthy environment.

Quite interestingly, in India during April earlier this year, announcing the judgment of a hearing, Justice Sundaram Srimathy of the Madras High Court ruled that Mother Nature should be granted “all corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities of a living person”, and that humans are required to protect it from harm.

The development comes at a point of time when the world community is seriously looking to find solutions in every aspect possible, with the focus on people’s participation in ecosystem restoration at the grassroots through nature-based solutions. The objective is in restoring degraded ecosystems through practices that are in rhyme with nature and which do not intervene negatively on the natural landscapes and ecosystems.

The Core Group of the HRC stresses that the adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution, reaffirming the recognition of the right to a healthy environment, is key to increase priority for environmental protection and climate action across the globe while endorsing the commitments towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other instruments related to protecting the planet, climate action, and delivering for future generations.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be reached at [email protected])

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