CARPHA’s World Environment Day poster.
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad--Caribbean Public Health Agency CARPHA issued a release on the occasion of World Environment Day, June 5, in which it argued for moving “from exploiting nature to protecting and healing it.”
It said, “Protecting our region’s ecosystems is critical for our very survival. Ecosystems support the provision of water, contribute to good health [and – Ed.] sustain livelihoods and well-being of our Caribbean people. We need to ensure they are maintained and protected for generations to come. Restoration is an important response to reduce further degradation of our ecosystems.”
It added that World Environment Day “raises awareness of the problems facing our environment,” including “pollution, land degradation, unsustainable consumption, sea-level rise, food insecurity and exploitation,” and that CARPHA’s observation of it “helps to initiate and drive change in consumption patterns and environmental policy.”
According to the release, this year’s theme “Ecosystem Restoration” focuses on “resetting our relationship with the environment and calls for us to conserve, prevent, halt and reverse the damage to ecosystems and maintain their rich biodiversity.
“This year also marks the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) which calls for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world with the aim of halting the degradation of ecosystems and restoring them,” it continues.
“CARPHA is happy to support the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The [Caribbean Community] CARICOM region is an environmental gem because of its unique blend of marine and land ecosystems. Our inhabitants and visitors alike enjoy the benefits and CARPHA will do all in its power to support and sustain this treasure,” said Dr. Joy St. John, Executive Director of CARPHA.
The release explains, “Land degradation threatens lives and livelihoods through, for example, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, which include provision of food, medicines, recreational facilities and safe drinking water supplies. The main pressures to the marine ecosystems include bleaching of coral reefs, marine litter and sustaining fisheries. Coral bleaching has killed many reefs that are unlikely to recover over the next century. Freshwater ecosystems face pressures associated with activities related to the agricultural, industrial and energy sectors, and the resulting impacts of climate change. Poor management of some major subregional and regional ground water sources threaten water security through unsustainable abstraction, groundwater pollution and saline intrusion.”
It goes on to point out that in the Caribbean, inadequate planning and development have led to the destruction and degradation of huge areas of natural habitats, as well as the coastal landscape. It lists as impacts: pollution from untreated sewage; contamination from development and industrial sites; dredging and filling coastal wetlands and mangroves to build marinas and ports; sand mining and beach erosion; and increased consumption of water from surface and ground water sources. Admitting to some progress in addressing environmental degradation in the Caribbean’s terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystem, it says “continued environmental degradation and loss of important biodiversity over the last 50 years has reduced the resilience of the region to survive natural disasters.”
CARPHA goes on to suggest restoring ecosystems by “planting trees, creating environmentally friendly communities and cleaning our rivers, mangroves and beaches,” adding, “Healthier ecosystems enable communities to benefit both socially and economically. Clean healthy rivers can reduce human health risks and restoring degrading lands can lessen the potentially disastrous impacts of climate change.”
Through its Environmental Health and Sustainable Development Department (EHSD) CARPHA seeks to protect the environment and preserve the environmental health and well-being of the Caribbean people. In collaboration with regional and international partners, CARPHA promotes and provides technical assistance for sustainable management of resources in its Member States. Its projects include the European Union/Forum of the Caribbean Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States CARIFORUM Project – Strengthening Climate Resilient Health Systems in the Caribbean; the IWEco Project – Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States; and Caribbean Aqua-Terrestrial Solutions Programme (CATS)/GIZ. All of these use a “ridge-to-reef approach to pollution prevention, livelihoods enhancement and resilience to climate change,” it says.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the close relationship between humans and the health of the environment, the release adds. “Scientists have indicated that to prevent future outbreaks of zoonoses (disease transferred from animals to humans) like COVID-19, we must address the threats of loss of habitat (deforestation and fragmentation of our ecosystems). Pathogens thrive in the presence of such changes to the environment and also when ecosystems are under stress from human activity and climate change,” says CARPHA.
In conclusion, CARPHA says, “We need to create a balanced relationship with the ecosystems we depend on.
“CARPHA urges all sectors of society to take positive and urgent action towards protecting, conserving and restoring our ecosystems. Let us come together to reimagine our lives and practices [and] help recreate and restore our ailing ecosystems, so they last for the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and beyond.”