“This telephone is an amazing invention but who would want to use one of them?” said American President Rutherford Hayes back in 1876. During the past year, there have been numerous examples of political shortsightedness that have reminded me of President Hayes’ anecdote.
2011 started with Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and ended with the disturbingly impotent decisions on climate change taken in Durban. We have seen earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, droughts, nuclear accidents, marine pollution and waste dumping among other disasters and emergencies. Be they caused by nature or man, the human tolls they inflict are devastating; their economic costs run into billions; and their social consequences are immeasurable.
All of these consequences have reminded us of the fragility of our planet’s life support systems and, thus, the need for continued vigilance in coping with poverty, security and environmental challenges, which are at the heart of the Green Cross mission.
The international response to major global challenges, be it the tragic drought and famine in the Horn of Africa or the daily struggle almost 900 million people face to access safe drinking water, demonstrates the dramatic inadequacy in scope and imagination of our global governance and political system. Focused on economic downturn, decision-makers are failing to see the forest for the trees.
Against such a grim backdrop, Green Cross is striving to promote awareness that understanding the links between environmental sustainability and equity is critical if we are to safeguard the future for current and coming generations. As always, we have been doing this through concrete, down-to-earth work.
In communities in Ghana and Bolivia, where access to safe drinking water can be a major challenge, over 40,000 people are receiving this previous resource via rainwater harvesting systems and boreholes installed by Green C
ross. In Viet Nam and Chernobyl, hundreds of people, including children, affected by chemical or nuclear contamination are receiving social and medical support thanks to Green Cross. Hundreds of students from countries including the United States, Italy, Japan, Sri Lanka, Belarus and Australia are being shown the way – by Green Cross – on how to protect their environment and work towards for a safer, more sustainable future.
Our advocacy efforts are also paying off. Through our Water Programme, we are focusing the attention of governments on the need to ratify the UN Watercourses Convention and to implement the UN Human Right to Water and Sanitation, which was recognised in 2010. Green Cross is playing a critical role in facilitating the environmentally sound destruction of stockpiles of chemical weapons.
In Switzerland, Green Cross was an advocate of the government’s choice to end its country’s reliance on nuclear energy. Germany took a similar commendable step. We urge other countries that use nuclear energy to follow suit. Countries can accomplish this by increasing their energy efficiency and developing renewable energy alternatives and leaving behind fossil fuels and nuclear-based power sources. The nightmare of Fukushima offers no other alternative.
Green Cross, as a network, is also expanding. We are very pleased to welcome our newest national organisation, Green Cross Poland. We hope that the Green Cross name and mission will continue to spread as we grow more and more each year.
The road ahead does not promise to be a cakewalk. Going forward, the international community needs to rework its consumption-driven economic model into one that is more focused on protecting the planet and the environment, which is equitable for all people, and in turn, lessens the gap between the rich and the poor.
Given the challenges we still face, civil society, which in recent years has turned from an abstract notion into a real force in promoting change and policy, should take a more proactive stand in solving our mounting problems, rather than just blaming governments, international institutions or business for inertia, greed or lack of political will. It should spur change by targeting not only governments and intellectuals but also by encouraging the public-at-large to embrace value change.
The coming year will be an important one for Green Cross. The Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, World Water Forum, and preparations for our own 20th anniversary in 2013 in The Hague are all events we wish to mark with continued expansion and consolidation of our network. After 20 years, we remain resolute in our goal to give humanity a chance and give the earth a future. We look forward to your support in the coming year.
Best wishes and have a wonderful New Year,
Green Cross International