Stephen Rodriques, UNDP Liberia Resident Representative
After nearly three months of rigorous Stockholm+50 nationwide consultations in Liberia on the theme, of a healthy planet for the prosperity of all, it is time to observe World Environment Day, aimed at raising awareness of the fact that we have “only one Earth”, and our collective survival depends on it.
The Stockholm+50 consultations converged on the notion that for planet Earth to buttress the prosperity of everyone, we all have collective and individual responsibility to do our part, no matter how small or big, to save Mother Earth. The consultations heard views and ideas from “the whole of society”, with many people calling for action. “After all the talk, let us act!” was a message repeated during each consultation event. We are at a critical moment in history as the world is grappling with the triple crises of climate change, ecosystem degradation and the effects of COVID-19.
Climate change is a very present reality for the people in Liberia. We may not know much about the greenhouse gasses increasing atmospheric temperatures, nor notice the rising temperatures, but rising sea levels decimating the country’s coastline have brought its reality change right into the lives of hundreds of families across Liberia.
From West Point and New Kru Town in Monrovia to the entire coastline of Liberia from Robertsport to Harper, hundreds of families can only but point out to sea where their homes once stood. Abandoned homes on the edge of the coast battered by sea storms, roads abruptly cut off by sea erosion and schools, which only continue to stand because of protective rock revetments constructed to hold at bay the advancing ocean, are evidence of the reality of climate change.
The country’s unique forests and wetlands are also under assault from shifting agriculture, mining, logging and construction activities. This presents a double tragedy because these ecosystems provide vital environmental services including absorbing atmospheric carbon helping to minimize temperature increases driving climate change.
The degradation of forests and wetlands is also accompanied by the loss of plants, animals and other creatures that may hold the key to cures for diseases such as cancer, malaria, Ebola and COVID-19. The clearing of forests and draining of wetlands, littering and polluting the environment are putting our very own lives at risk. With 68% of biodiversity lost in the past 50 years, it appears we have consigned ourselves to extinction.
And as if climate change and biodiversity loss are not enough, COVID-19 has thrown the spanner into the works. The world is struggling to get back on its feet after COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill for at least one year, claiming millions of lives, and reversing critical development gains. COVID-19 has proved to be more than a medical emergency.
It disrupted health services such as routine childhood immunization, and limited access to maternal and neonatal health services. It bogged down the economy, stunting agricultural production and throttling small businesses that are the lifeline of most Liberians, resulting in an alarming rise in poverty. It wiped out an entire school year as the country’s limited access to electricity, computers and internet connectivity eliminated the digital learning option.
COVID-19 sparked a development emergency that continues to unfold in unpredictable ways compelling governments, including that of Liberia, to review and revise their national development plans. The world is in the perfect storm.
This year, which marks 50 years since the first UN conference on the environment and development, provides a timely opportunity for the world to pause and re-look at our relationship with nature against our goals and aspirations for growth and prosperity.