A concern for the environment has now taken the front burner in today’s political and social discourse. Concern over the environment is no longer viewed as alarmist. Increasing evidence about the effects of pollution on the environment and the human population and the emergency over the increasingly depleting natural resources of our earth has compelled all countries of the world whether rich or poor, to now become acutely conscious of our environment and the need to keep it healthy.
The destruction of the earth’s composition is as a result of myriad causes chief of which are the activities of man caused largely by massive industrialization and over-population of the human species. Consequently, the degraded environment becomes unhealthy both for human beings and the sustainability of the entire ecosystem. An unhealthy environment therefore, is an environment which has undergone changes to its natural state that instead of been able to uphold the flourishing of flora and fauna becomes dangerous to such. However in this essay we will define an unhealthy environment as one that cannot sustain and as such becomes dangerous to the safety of human existence. Unfortunately unhealthy environments have been proliferating at an alarming rate as human activities in our villages, towns, cities, and countries continue to degrade the ecosystem.
It is not very difficult to isolate unhealthy environments. Science and knowledge has progressed so much that unwholesome areas of living can be identified with ease. Some of the indicators of unhealthy environments are polluted air and water bodies, erosion of land surfaces, illicit disposal of waste materials (including household, sewage and toxic elements). Others are over population, scorch earth farming practices like overgrazing and uncontrolled deforestation to make way for farmland.
A community in which the water bodies have become polluted is an unhealthy one because this raises the risk and incidence of water borne diseases like cholera and river blindness. This scenario is played out in numerous villages and cities around the country and the world at large. Water bodies which are used for drinking and have served as such for very many years are polluted with effluent, solid waste and in Nigeria, frequently by refuse dumps.
During the farming season communities are seen to relentlessly persist with the practice of bush burning to clear farmlands. This activity is unhealthy for the environment because burning releases great amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, kills soil micro and macro organisms and devastates the land in such a manner that it usually takes many years for the land to recover. This practice also alters the habitat by fostering the growth of hardy fire-resistant flora some of which are not natural to a particular ecosystem but flourish when its natural inhibitors are removed permanently. Unhealthy environments caused by air pollution have been increasing as people become richer and can afford cars. Vehicular transportation has been credited with causing a great percentage of air pollution. The health hazards attributed to unhealthy air quality is estimated to run into trillions of dollars globally. Some of the ailments associated with this distortion in the atmosphere are lung and respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis which scientists acclaim has been on the rise. Air pollution arising from vehicular emissions and heavy industrialization which send huge quantities of carbon dioxide and hydrocarbon emissions into the atmosphere have been squarely blamed for the green house effect and as a result the heating up of the globe which is melting the polar ice caps, has increased sea levels and forced the shift towards more environmentally friendly means of powering vehicles like hydrogen fuels and hybrid electric cell batteries. Air pollution as a leading cause of unhealthy environments have raised so much concern that environmental scientists believe it can have so much negative impact on the globe affecting even civilization itself.
Another ready pointer to identifying unhealthy environments cum communities is the negative effect or fallouts of industrialization. In our country today, we are not new to stories about the devastation of communities and the environment by oil spills from petroleum pipelines, dumping of non-biodegradable chemicals and waste materials, smog from industrial furnaces and engines. Such practices (sometimes caused by accidents) destroy aquatic life and food sources, deoxidize water bodies and deplete nutrients from them, while aiding the proliferation of dangerous aquatic plants and acidify the soil. These conditions make farmlands infertile and in many cases the minerals are taken up by the plants and pass on to the body when the plants are eaten.
From the foregoing it is clear that no matter whether it is land, water or air that becomes polluted and as such unhealthy, the end result is that the health of man is compromised and the quality of life reduced because our happy existence is tied to that of the environment. Scientists claim that of the many ailments that bother people more than a few are triggered by living in unhealthy environments. Yet it is irreconcilable that Man refuses to heed these warnings and goes ahead to further jeopardize the already fragile ecosystem when it is our species (Man) that will lose the most from any environmental disaster. These notwithstanding there are solutions to environmental problems in our communities.
The first and foremost solution to unhealthy environments/communities is a change in attitude. People must become reoriented to develop a sense of responsibility and respect for the environment. Clearly, while in the quest of exploiting the natural resources to raise standards of living, care must be taken not to damage the environment and when it inadvertently becomes damaged consideration must be taken to control the environmental degradation. Social scientists now talk about environmental communication as a potent means to solve the problems of unhealthy attitude and practices towards environmental issues.
Environmental communication here is an information effort from governments and non-governmental organizations and the media to enlighten the citizens on how best to live in harmony with the environment. Such an endeavour has taken root in the developed world and citizens of such countries are now environmentally conscious and understand issues like recycling, renewable energy resources, carbon miles and footprints.
Another solution is legislation to protect the environment. Environmental laws that control man made pollution and that seek to protect the natural resources from misuse. Currently there are such existing laws but the greater need is for better enforcement and greater consistency and integration with other laws that address environmental concerns.
Non-governmental agencies, United Nations organizations, environmentalists, Green parties and politicians and celebrities should support and stand for environmental causes in public, lobby for environmental protection and be examples to facilitate the general public imbibe healthy environmental ethics.
As we grapple with increasingly unhealthy communities and environments we must understand that our planet Earth is the only one known to sustain life in the solar system and so we must protect it from the ravages of carbon emissions, acid depositions, ozone layer destruction, loss of wild lands, soil erosion, water pollution, illicit disposal of refuse waste and other toxic substances.
British Council Nigeria/Save our Environment 2007 National Winning Essay for World Environment Day Celebrations.