Special Content

Special Article


Dr. Prem S. Vashishtha

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22 each year with the twin objectives of appreciating the importance of earth’s environment and creating awareness about the need to save it. It was founded by the American Senator late Gaylord Nelson in 1970. Although Nelson had been writing and talking about environment since 1962, it was the accident of 1969 of big oil spill in South Barbara, California that moved him so much that he decided to take up the issue of deteriorating world environment on war footing.Nelson was awarded the President Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in US, in 1995 by the then President of United States, Mr. Bill Clinton. Nelson’s grass root movement can be credited with raising public support for the creation of US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and enacting several laws relating to the protection of clean air, water quality and endangered species. The celebration of earth day has gone global since 1991. Now more than 100 million people across the globe participate in Earth Day events such as conferences, rallies and outdoor activities, service projects, etc. In Africa several organizations have created a big awareness about Earth Day. In countries like India the awareness about earth day is still confined mainly to the urban areas, the rural part still remains not so much aware of the significance of earth day. This is a little ironical as agriculture is so closely linked with the rural sector and the environment as well.

Peace and Earth Day:

It was in 2004 that the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to widen the definition of peace to encompass the environmental issues. According to the Nobel Committee, peaceful world means managing environment with responsibility, sustainability and equitably at all levels i.e. local, national and global. The Nobel Peace Prize of 2004 was awarded to Wangari Maathai of Kenya who founded the Green Belt Movement. He began with planting seven trees 30 years ago. His movement grew so much that more than 30 million trees have been planted over the last 30 years. The significance of such steps can be appreciated at the global level. As per recent millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report, 60 per cent of nature’s most vital services to mankind through fresh water and forest are degrading fast. This reduces the flood protection and climate stabilizing capacity of forest. A big lesson from Green Belt Movement is that it not only enriches the Earth’s environment but also provides livelihood to the poor. A significant message implied in this approach of a modest beginning with sustained effort is that “one should do whatever one can”. This can make a big difference ultimately.

Community Based Action:

Community based action in different areas of environment can go a long way to save the earth. Example from Africa in restoring wildlife and environment on degraded grass land is noteworthy. In Dimbangombe areas of Western Zimbabwe, community of ranchers and farmers committed 20,000 acres of degraded land to community ownership. The community agreed to avoid overgrazing on such land and restore plants and wildlife. This helped raising livestock and land in a sustainable manner.

Green Livelihood Project:

Green livelihood project in Na Rympei community in India created a Win- Win situation. Na Rympei Project trained two community members in green livelihood as part of value based business. The locals switched over to the use of solar stove and solar lamps at moderate cost (stove costed US $ 38 and lamp US $ 32 in 2014). The use of solar stove avoided collection / buying of firewood and the use of solar lamp did away with use of candles or kerosene oil. Both these measures based on renewable energy not only reduced pollution but also helped the locals to reduce the incidence of chronic respiratory illness.

Macro Scenario and Public Policy:

Community based action on small scale can bring big changes at the local level. However, there are certain areas where public policy needs to be effective if the desired results are to be achieved on a wider scale or macro level. One such area is the management of water resources. India shares 18 per cent of world population but only 4 per cent of global water resources. The average annual water availability has reduced drastically over the last 30 years due to increase in population and inefficient use of water. About 75 per cent to 80 per cent of water resources are used in agriculture. The surface irrigation system operates at efficiency level of not more than 35 per cent. The ground water resource is depleting fast due to over exploitation for irrigation as well as urban use. Recycling rate of waste water is abysmally low (30 per cent) in India (compare it with 85 per cent for Israel). Urban water utilization loss is 40 per cent to 50 per cent  due to leakage, while the public suffers from water shortage almost on perpetual basis. In such areas a strong public policy and public action is needed to clear the mess. At the same time heavy public investment is required in modernizing the urban water utility infrastructure. State level laws are to be enacted and strictly implemented to prevent over-exploitation of ground water. Canal administration needs a drastic overhaul to improve delivery of surface water irrigation.

Water saving technologies of irrigation (traddle pumps, drip irrigation, etc.) are to be taken to the farmer with appropriate credit and policy support at the micro level. At a more macro level, an efficient river basin management has to be evolved is a federal system of India where a major part of water resources falls in the jurisdiction of state governments.

The Challenges of Climate Changes:

According to a recent World Bank Study, the climate change can push more than 100 million additional people into poverty trap by 2030 at the global level. More than 73 million such poor people are likely to be affected due to adverse effect on agriculture alone. The most urgent task before scientists is to invent/ discover climate resilient seed of major staple crops. This necessitates coordinated efforts at the national as well as global level in terms of investment in research and development, agriculture extension and disease management.

The challenge of saving the planet requires a multi-pronged strategy in which there is an important role for the youth to work at the community level as illustrated in the case of ‘Green Livelihood’ Project of India and Green Belt Movement in Kenya. Apart from this, the state has to play a pivotal role through appropriate public investment and public policy. However, the main mantra behind all policy measures should be 4R (reduce, reuse, recycle and repair) as advocated by several leaders in this field such as Klaus Topfer, Wangari Maathai and others.


(The author is a Visiting Senior Fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi-110002. e-mail : premsv08@gmail.com.)