June 5 is observed as World Environment Day. The day was set by the United Nations in 1974 as one important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment. It has grown to the point where over 100 countries including Liberia are celebrating it. This year’s celebration carries the theme, “Beating Plastic Pollution,” and India is selected as a host country for 2018.
The theme, according to a film journalist interviewed by Radio France International on Tuesday morning, is very important to the world because plastic dumped by industrial nations into the oceans and seas is harming marine animals in those habitats. The film journalist and environmental advocate also said he has filmed huge quantities of plastics brought on shore by sea waves that also pose environmental hazard.
The adverse consequences of plastic pollution on land and living things cannot be underestimated. A few days ago a pilot whale was reported to have died in southern Thailand as a result of eating 80 plastic bags and other debris. Studies in soil science show that when plastic dumped in landfills comes in contact with water, it produces many toxic and hazardous chemicals that affect soil fertility.
In water, plastic makes aquatic life miserable, leading to premature death of marine animals such as turtles, fish, whales, otters, seabirds and others. Studies also show that burning plastic causes air pollution thus leading humans to contract diseases such as asthma and emphysema, and skin diseases. These life threatening situations have led some countries to take affirmative actions to curtail the use and littering of plastic.
There are some African countries that have taken steps in recent years to either place a ban or levy taxes on the use of plastic. They include Kenya, Mali, Cameroon, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, South Africa, Rwanda and Botswana. Sadly for Liberia, the environment has become polluted with plastic bags that are either littered or deliberately dumped into the rivers and drainages.
It has become habitual for most Liberians to dump their trash without thought, when and wherever, especially discarded plastic water bags. Mineral water companies, some operating in unsanitary environments, have emerged in recent years producing plastic bagged water which end users drop just about any and everywhere. In this regard, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a rather steep uphill task to control and prevent pollution by waste plastic.
That agency boasts of a Public Relations outfit which one would expect to be engaged in creating awareness about the dangers posed by plastic pollution. However there are clear indications that the greater majority of Liberians have little or no awareness about the danger posed to the environment by waste plastic and how to handle same.
Another area of concern posing threat to the environment is beach sand mining which by all accounts is exacerbating the problem of sea erosion along the coastlines of Monrovia, Buchanan, Greenville and Harper. Right around Monrovia, in Sinkor, Congo Town, New Kru Town, West Point the impact of sea erosion can be clearly seen and felt. Additionally, sand mining by foreign companies using suction dredges in the rivers is also causing damage to marine life in those water bodies.
Also of critical concern to environmentalists, is the gradual destruction of mangroves especially around coastal urban settlements, and the marine life that thrive there. The Mesurado and Marshall Wetlands rank high on the list of concern. In the Mesurado Wetlands which virtually surrounds the city of Monrovia, plastic pollution is a serious problem growing in intensity each day.
At low tide, large amounts of waste plastic can be seen stuck to the roots of mangrove trees; This is aside from the constant cutting of mangrove trees and the use of dynamite for fishing. We hope, as Liberia celebrates with other countries World Environment Day, our government through the EPA will consider putting measures in place to stamp out beach sand mining, and introduce measures to reduce pollution caused by plastic and other wastes in compliance with the theme of this year’s celebration.
A first step could be to limit the amount of plastic imported annually into the country with the view to placing a total ban on the import of plastic. After all said and done, the Environment is our future and destroying it is like making oneself a bed of nails on which to sleep.