MDG #7: Environmental sustainability

Julia Kalloz

It’s the simplest part of my morning routine. “Lefty-loosey” and the water pours from the faucet so I can wash my hands, take my shower, brush my teeth. Water is always a twist of the wrist away. But according to the United Nations (UN), more than one billion people have no constant access to the most important and necessary resource in the world, water. By UN prognoses, that number could swell to more than 3 billion people by 2025. To put this into perspective, just remember that the world population is only 6.47 billion.

Environmental sustainability is the seventh Millennium Development Goal, and one of the main focuses of this goal is to halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. Fulfilling this goal will help the world solve not only environmental problems, but will also help to halve poverty by 2015 (MDG 1), reduce disease (MDG 6), and create more security in the world.

The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said to the United Nations that “all our efforts to defeat poverty … will be in vain if environmental degradation and natural resource depletion continue unabated.” Most impoverished nations are in resource-poor and water-scarce regions. However, this natural scarcity can be mitigated through environmentally sustainable water management practices. Investment in environmentally sustainable water and sanitation programs can turn around the sky-rocketing water usage in the world.

Improved water management will also improve health. Thomas Kluge in his article “Water” in “Das Magazin” writes that five million people die each year from water-bourne diseases. The majority of these deaths directly affect children. This can be mitigated by educating the people about proper water management. By supporting water-management, the seventh MDG, we will be on our way to preventing water-bourne diseases as seen in the sixth MDG (combat malaria and other diseases), whereby as a world community we will be eliminating one of the causes of child mortality, the goal of the fifth MDG.

Colin Powell described environmental sustainability to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as a “security imperative,” saying that poverty, environmental degradation and the despair they breed are “destroyers of people, of societies, of nations” and has the potential to destabilize entire regions.

The roots of such a conflict are beginning to be seen in the Middle East. Ines Dombrowsky in his article “The Water Crisis in the Near East” predicts a coming ‘water war,’ where the fight will not be about oil, but over water. Israel currently uses 56 percent of the water shared with Palestine, Jordan and Syria. Without environmentally sustainable management of this water, it will soon turn into another source of conflict.

While water is a large focus of the seventh MDG, environmental sustainability is about the whole “circle of life.” In March 2005 the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment revealed that 60 percent of the world’s ecosystems are in decline or degraded to an extent that we cannot rely on their services.

These services include climate regulation, clean air and water, fertile land and productive fisheries. These services help to keep disease in check, provide valuable new medicines and protect communities from natural disasters. Developing countries depend mostly on agricultural products and raw materials. Their basic survival needs provide a strong impetus to overfish and cut down forests.

However in the long term, sustainability is the answer to poverty. According to the UNEP, global fish stocks are down by 90 percent since the dawn of industrialized fishing.

Forests around the world are being felled at a rate of more than 250 square kilometers a day. These forests are being felled for the profit of these impoverished nations, but forests provide not only timber, but medicinal plants, food for 1.6 billion people, and habitat for countless species. Their destruction also releases up to 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

There are good signs that the world is heeding the need for environmental sustainability. The 2004 Nobel Peace prize went to the Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai.

Recently the Finance (not the Environmental) Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, joined this movement when he said to the members of the G-8, “If our economies are to flourish, if poverty is to be banished, and if the well-being of the world’s people is to be enhanced … we must make sure we take care of the natural environment and resources on which our economic activity depends.”