oday we are witnessing an ever-increasing number of natural disasters in the form of earthquakes, landslides, earth slips, flooding, droughts, wildfires and tsunamis occurring worldwide. Earlier this year in Greece, devastating wildfires killed around 85 people, while wildfires in California and in Sweden raged out of control and burned for days.
In Kerala, India, unusually heavy rains during the recent monsoon led to landslides and floods which killed over 483 persons and around half-a-million persons had to be evacuated. In April 2015, Nepal was hit by an earthquake killing nearly 9,000 people. Over 22,000 suffered injury. The quake toppled muti-storeyed buildings in Kathmandu and created landslides and avalanches.
In our own country last year (May 2017), we witnessed large-scale landslides and flooding which brought about widespread death and destruction. The Disaster Management Centre reported 100 deaths, 250,000 people affected, 71 houses destroyed and 163 houses were severely damaged by landslides and flooding after three days of continuous rainfall.
No single country; whether it be the rich, developed or the poorest in Asia or Africa, has been spared by nature’s wrath, as human activity continues to damage the environment. A UN environmental study involving 1,203 scientists, hundreds of scientific institutions, and more than 160 governments, brought together by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found degradation of the world’s natural resources by humans was rapidly outpacing the planet’s ability to absorb the damage - meaning the rate of deterioration is increasing globally.
Studies have also shown that deforestation is one on the main causes behind the climatic changes leading to natural disasters, rising sea levels and the creation of holes in the ozone layer which protects us from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Deforestation means less trees, less trees means less cleansing of oxygen, the displacement of the wildlife, changes in weather patterns, desertification and water scarcity. Deforestation also gives rise to a dangerous decrease in a natural fighter of global warming which leads to climate change and rising oceans. With sea levels rising from the melting of glaciers and icebergs. Scientists warn many small islands could be submerged.
According the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Maldives is projected to experience sea level rise on the order of 1.5 feet (half-a-meter) -- and to lose some 77% of its land area -- by around the year 2100. If sea level were instead to rise by 3 feet (one metre), the Maldives could be almost completely inundated by about 2085.
Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme says, the world has lost over 130m hectares of rain-forests since 1990, and we lose dozens of species every day, pushing the Earth’s ecological system to its limit. “Biodiversity and the ecosystem services it supports are not only the foundation for our life on Earth, but critical to the livelihoods and well-being of people everywhere.”
Between 2000 and 2012, 2.3 million sq km (890,000 sq miles) of forests around the world were cut down. As a result of deforestation, only 6.2 million square km (2.4 million square miles) remain of the original 16 million square km (6 million sq miles) of forest that formerly covered the Earth. Forest cover world-wide which stood at 31.81 in 1990 was down to 30.825 by 2015. Forest cover in Sri Lanka has reduced by more than 3 percentage points. According to ‘Global Forest Watch’ between 2001 and 2017, Sri Lanka lost 154 kha of tree cover, equivalent to a 3.9% decrease since 2000. A rate far exceeding the international drop in forest cover of around 1%. Biologist Paul Ehrlich, has warned that civilisational collapse is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to the destruction of the natural world. As though this were not bad enough fumes from fossil fuel-based motor vehicles are creating holes in the layer of ozone, which protects the earth and all its beings from the ultra-violet rays of the sun.
Plastic waste on the other hand is now even clogging sections of the ocean posing a danger to marine life. So, is our planet doomed? Is there anything we can do to protect this planet we call home?
The answer is YES! ‘Yes We Can’, and Asia is showing the way. In northern Asia, forest cover has increased by more than 22% -- a result of tree-planting programmes mainly by China, where as a result of tree-planting programmes, forest cover has increased by more than 22%. As individuals we too can play an important role in protecting the Earth. We need to help farming families realise the danger of slash and burn agricultural practices which are denuding our forests.
Every action counts. Let’s help save our planet.