By Onno Ruhl, General Manager, Aga Khan Agency for Habitat
The environment takes care of not just human beings but also all other life forms that exist on this planet by providing adequate resources to ensure their survival. However, over the years humans have exploited these resources to satisfy not just their needs, often also their greed. Human ventures have discounted the value of the future and of nature, and thus have had a destructive effect on nature’s resources. Pollution, mass deforestation, lowered biodiversity, climate change and the exhaustion of natural resources are just a few problems that humans have created.
Since 1972, World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June every year in an attempt to spread awareness about the rising adversities in the environment. Despite these efforts, the theme of the first World Environment Day, “Only One Earth”, remains ignored. Large-scale awareness about protection of the environment is needed today more than ever, since science shows it is not long before things get out of hand and irreversible damage done.
In India, the total forest cover increased by less than 1 percent in the last two years, according to the 2017 State of Forest Report. A report published by the National Institution for Transforming India, also called NITI Aayog, suggested that only 21 percent of land in India is under forest cover as against the recommended 33 percent suggested in the national forest policy. Over the years, development in India has come at the cost of forests and the green cover has gone down considerably. According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, in the past three to five years, Maharashtra lost 63 square kilometres of forest land and ranked fourth in India for maximum reduction of forest cover. According to a report by the Government of Delhi released in September 2018, since 2005, the city has lost more than 112,000 trees, which means roughly that a tree is lost almost every hour.
The world needs more trees and healthy forests if we are to address climate change and create a habitable world for future generations. Over the years, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has planted over 100 million trees across Asia and Africa, of which 12 million are in India. The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) – which was created specifically to address the risks of climate change – works actively in India’s environment sector and has amongst other activities planted over 42,000 trees in the last three years, primarily in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana. In addition to increasing the number of trees planted on a sustainable level and raising public awareness about the importance of trees and green cover, AKAH works year-round with local communities, governments and schools to help mitigate behaviours that contribute to climate change and pollution.
World Environment Day is now not just a celebration but also a necessity. If we don’t do anything to help conserve our environment today, when we realise it, it will be too late. We can do our part by taking many small steps in this direction. Planting more trees will not only help in increasing the green cover, but will also help secure our future. We will keep planting trees, please do so too!