Environmental protection — a luxury most nations cannot afford
Having spent my entire working life designing and building what are essentially environmental protection systems in the more developed and transitioning countries around the world, I often see or hear of the pollution that is happening every day in less developed nations. It makes me wonder if what I am doing is really making a detectable difference to the global pollution issue.
As a country grows in economic wealth, its people generally take a series of steps, starting with seeking peace and security. Once achieved, this then paves the way for economic development. Economic development then allows for trade and industry and importantly, the fighting of disease and hunger.
At the most basic level, an individual has three immediate needs:
- Physical safety.
- A safe and secure supply of drinking water and food.
Protecting the environment for the sake of the environment — and reducing pollution — comes well down the list of the needs of an individual.
For transitioning countries, as with an individual, protecting the environment and therefore reducing pollution is a very low priority.
Given the above, is there anything we water professionals can do? The answer is yes.
First, we need to design systems that cost less to build and operate for every stage of the less-developed nation’s economic development.
Second, we need to do it with a level of urgency.
Third, we need to pull back on investing time and money in achieving fractional improvements to a developed nation’s water systems and spending the money designing systems that the less developed nations can afford.
What can others do?
Developing and transitioning governments need to make building stronger water institutions a priority. This will ensure that public funds are used wisely and not squandered on inappropriate technology.
The water media and thought leaders need to educate the public in developing nations to help their people understand what is possible. More importantly, these people will also need the knowledge that will enable them to ensure their leaders are made accountable if they don’t deliver.
We who live and work in developed nations must both assist and lead by example, especially in our transactions and through our businesses that are working with and within these developing and transitioning nations.
As an example of what can be achieved, all of us in the water industry should be inspired by the activities of WaterAid, which is tackling one of the world’s major health issues. Around 500,000 children are dying every year from diarrhoea caused by drinking unsafe water and being exposed to poor sanitation? That is over 1400 children a day.
WaterAid is attacking this issue from all angles — working with local partners to help communities gain access to safe water and sanitation. It is also using its experience and research to influence decision-makers to do more to provide these vital services. And it is using practical technologies while ensuring the communities gain and maintain the right skills to keep these solutions working long into the future.
This approach has resulted in more than 21 million people worldwide now having access to safe water. And all of this has happened in some of the world’s poorest communities.
By taking a leaf out of WaterAid’s book, if we can both lower the stage in economic growth at which developing and transitioning nations can afford to start work on environmental protection and increase the knowledge within these nations as to what is possible, there is every reason to believe that — sooner rather than later — environmental protection will no longer be a luxury that most of the world’s less-developed nations today cannot afford.
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