By Abdoukarim Sanneh,
London, United Kingdom
Mehmet Murat Ildan Turkish playwright, novelist and thinker stated that Environmental pollution is not only humanity’s treason to humanity but also treason to all other living creatures on Earth. The coming of World Commission on Environment and Development and the publication of its report our common future was a turning point in the global advocacy of national environmental policy development to environmental problems in both developed and developing countries. The World Commission on Environment and Development, commonly known as Brundtland Commission, which was headed by Former Prime Minister of Norway and one time Director General of World Health Organisation is reference in academic circles as the most important document of the decade on the future of our planet-earth.
The Genesis of the report our common future had opened not only academic/ intellectual debate of the future of our planet but also political ecological thought for development that should meet the need of the current generation without compromising that of the future generation which become known as sustainable development. In The United Kingdom, since after the publication of Brundtland Commission report, the Department of Environment, now known as Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commissioned an independent study called the Blue print for green economy which endorsed the report of World Commission for Sustainable Development, providing the most influential account for UK economic policies to achieve sustainable development.
The Brundtland Commission report led to a shift in policy directions in many other countries and the birth of green party politics. It was the recommendations of the Brundtland Commission report our common future, which shaped the debate of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, known as the Earth Summit in Brazil in June 1992. In the views of many environmental activists, the Earth Summit was a failure; but for many academics and development commentators, it was the beginning of the most important legal binding agreements between developed and developing countries such as convention on biological diversity, convention on sustainable development(Agenda 21), convention on desertification and convention on climate change. These conventions have shift international diplomacy and shape relationships between nation states in developed and developing countries in this millennium and beyond.
In the Gambia, the issues of environmental protection and erosion of biological resources have been a concern since the first Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel meeting in Banjul following the 1970s Sahelian drought. The Government of the Gambia was aware of degradation of our national fauna and flora and in 1977 came up with what is known as the Banjul Declaration for the conservation and protection of our national flora and fauna. In policy dimension, because of the fact that Agriculture and environmental goods is major contributor the economy there was strong political will and commitment to natural resource management.
After Gambia’s participation at the World Summit on Environment and Development, commonly known as Earth Summit, the PPP Government with international funding in the age of what World Bank critic such as Professor Michael Goldman of Yale University called imperial nature- the world Bank and the struggles for social justice in the age of globalisation, was able to secure funding and consultancy that transformed the Environmental Unit at the Department of Water Resources into what is today known as the National Environment Agency. The Gambia National Environment Agency (NEA) came through an Act of parliament called Environment Management Act, 1994.
The legal mandate of the agency was to formulate environmental policies. The deficit of the Act was that the agency was not mandated further to develop and replicate its own environmental and development projects at national stage. The Agency was reduced to coordination, advice and consultation; overseeing compliance and providing technical advice on environmental issues and related development. The National Environment Agency is an institution with highly trained multidisciplinary team of professionals but cannot function within the scope and mandate like UK Environmental Agency-Independent, autonomous, and development oriented, decentralised to all the regions.
The Former APRC Government even with my critical observation of the progress of the National Environmental policy-“Gambia Environmental Action Plan”, have been positive and shows commitment in maintaining the semi-autonomous status of the agency before and after transition from military to quasi democracy. But the reality is that putting Gambia’s environmental crisis into perspectives, there is a need to shift policy direction towards environmental action beyond officialdom. The activities of National Environment Agency need funding and should be decentralised from central stage level to divisional/regional level and district level, through not only technical but also development arms. For example, every local government administration need environmental unit and environmental management plan to deal local environmental management issues at local government level such as land management, fly tipping, housing and environmental planning, flood, rivers and coastal risk management, waste management, pollution, environmental permit and information etc.
There are lot of good work/ efforts that the Environment Agency is doing. A lot of work has been done in the environmental information dissemination, communication and sensitisation to increase citizens’ awareness on the state of Gambia’s environment. The agency need resources to strengthen and should be given more regulatory and enforcement powers. This can only be done if we use our new democracy to developed effective environmental laws and regulation from the protection of all our environmental media. For example Golden Leaf Factory Pollution incidence in Gunjur, if it was in United Kingdom both Environment Act 1995, Water Resources 1991 and Water Industry Act 1991, all stated that in the legal status/code that knowingly and willingly discharge of untreated waste into any body is a criminal offence.
With rapid urbanisation in urban and semi-urban areas, the agency need to collaborate and support local government authorities in designing a strategic waste management action plan including public sensitisation issues on environmental health matters. Local Government authorities in return should complement the efforts of the Environment Agency with the provision of dustbins and lavatories in all public areas and spaces. Environmental health is an important requirement of our national development. Poor hygiene and sanitation in Africa is primary cause of the prevalence of both air and water borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid etc.
Coming up with National Waste Management strategy will practically find solution at current problem of municipal waste disposal facing many of the urban local government administration. Mountains of both biodegradable and non biodegradable solid wastes from Greater Banjul area which is openly dumped in Bakoteh dumpsite, contains a lot of methane that can be used as a source of energy. This can be incinerated to generate energy which can be transformed into electricity. Gambia needs an incineration plant to address thousands of tonnes of solid waste that end up in open space dumping sites affecting not only the visual scenery but also the natural beauty of our landscape. Gambia needs waste management policy which is directed towards re-use, recycle and regeneration. Our country needs sustainable municipal waste management strategies and frameworks. A healthy environment improves the living conditions of people and increases life expectancy.
The Gambia Environment National Agency could be institutionally functional beyond its legal mandate through addressing crucial issues of sustainability within the framework of Local Government decentralisation. The recent amendment of Local Government Act, have shifted all exclusive powers to the president and has grossly undermined any meaningful reform strategies put in place by United Nation Development Fund, commission on decentralisation projects of local government, which the Gambia benefited during military transition from first to second republic.
Gambia is a signatory to Sustainable development agenda known as agenda 21, which gives emphasis to local democracy, popular participation, social justice, environmental protection etc. New Gambia need to revisit its Local Government Act in order to strengthen inclusive transparent and accountable democratic Local Government system that focuses on fight against social injustice. The goals of sustainable development aims at addressing social inequality, environmental protection and local democracy is within the platform of local agenda 21, which draws on development through participatory approach and empowerment. The autocratic control of local government is a way forward to undermine the local agenda 21 through popular participation for decision making and environmental justice.
On legal dimension, there is a need for further development of Gambia’s environmental legislation in line with the current economic and global environmental realities. Environmental laws in the Gambia should cover all environmental medium such as land, water and atmosphere. A resource poor economy like our country with more dependency on imported goods, environmental legislation, regulation and enforcement should be strengthen to combat illegal dumping of either hazardous waste containing heavy metal into our environmental media. Africa’s marine ecosystem is a target for illegal dumping of hazardous chemical waste.
For example the toxic dumping in Abidjan in 2006, resulting to the death of 6 people and 9000 people has sought for hospital treatment is an indication that we have to be vigilant. Environmental inspectorate of the Agency should be further developed to monitor and regulate pollution matters to any environmental medium such as land, water and air. The Gambia Navy also need training on monitoring, inspection and legal awareness of issues of marine pollution. Both the Gambia Revenue Authority/ Customs and Excise need further training in what is called Environmental management and Life Cycle Analysis. With massive importation of second hand goods into the country requires some form of Cradle-to grave-analysis to reduce environmental risk and dumping. The impact of such goods in terms of their durability and impact on the physical environment should be put in national policy domain or debate for both stakeholders to avoid indiscriminate dumping.
In the areas of built environment and infrastructural development, National Environment Agency should develop a policy framework or regulation to mitigate environmental impact on any developmental industry, government or private. With rapid increasing population and massive urbanisation, Gambia needs a well defined sustainable land-use system. Centralisation of power as in the local government Act will only get matters worse in the immediate and long term effects. It is about time to act if we can dictate development policies that meet the needs of the present generation without compromising that of the future generation in line with the principles of sustainability.