Throughout these elections, there has been absolutely no serious commitment on the part of Liberian Presidential Candidates to restoring nature and protecting the environment.
At political rallies, town-hall meetings, debates and every campaign trails, no one ever hears anything about how the candidates' intent to address the many environmental issues confronting the country.
The candidates are busy discussing and concentrating on the economic, social and wellbeing of the Liberian people. However, it is a complete paradox to build a vibrant economy, develop a workable social policy and improve the living standard of every single person without firstly focusing on the environment.
Time and again, it has become an undisputable fact that no one can live without a habitable planet, drinkable water, breathable air, consumable food, cleanable energy and liveable environment. From the food we eat, to the water we drink, to the clothes we wear, to the house we live in, to the air we breathe, all bond us even more to the wonder, beauty, and power of the environment. Hence, we are all connected to our environment and not separated from it.
Just imagine for a minute, the joy of going to the park, visiting a nature reserve, walking on the beach, viewing wetlands, climbing mountains and relaxing under trees are all the enjoyment we get from our environment.
Even our children prove every day that they are deeply connected to our environment, because they are really excited being outdoors. Therefore, the way we treat our environment matters not just to us, but to our children and posterity.
Our environment also provides the much-needed support to live on earth. Consequently, our environment is the lifeblood of our very existence and it shapes the course of our future.
Accordingly, it is obvious that the wellbeing of our environment determines in large part the health of our own body and the growth of our economy. In essence, our environment affects our lives and the lives of our families and friends, classmates, and colleagues.
So, we all directly depend on our environment for our existence, livelihood, and economic growth. An attempt to disregard the environment will lead to substantial decrease in our economic growth.
Why the Environment Must Matter?
Liberia still remains richly endowed with mineral resources, water, tropical rainforest and a climate condition that is favorable to agricultural activities. Our country is home to some of the finest, natural and most beautiful landscape and animals the world has ever known. The stunning beaches, amazing creatures, fascinating inland waterways, admiring marshlands with mangroves, charming plateaus and mountains full of all sorts of minerals attract people from all walks of life.
Nevertheless, every single day, the very source of our survival is severely being threatened by us through various activities. The ways we obtain energy, grow food, exploit resources and utilize nature are creating adverse effects on the environment. As we make the earth warmer and destroy our environment, our lives and livelihoods are definitely going to change for the worse.
More than ever before, many homes and schools of already poverty-stricken Liberians living alongside the coast are being submerged in the vast Atlantic Ocean with wreckages scattered beneath the ocean floor. Sadly, congested coastal communities are utilizing the beautiful beaches for open defecation, disposal of municipal waste, and illegal sand mining.
Our fishes alongside other marine species are becoming contaminated. Marine lives are getting endangered. And, the ocean is becoming more acidic. Finding from painstaking research indicates that at the current rate of pollution our ocean is projected to have more plastic than fish by 2050.
Changes in weather pattern have resulted in crops withering for already aging farmers who are all too often unable to determine when to plant or to harvest certain agricultural products. High level of intermittent rainfall is causing floods and making several homes uninhabitable. An unprecedented number of coastal dwellers are becoming displaced and fleeing to higher ground.
Our forest is depleting faster than ever before. Right now legal and illegal logging activities are taking place while chain-sawing seems unending. Countless acreages of tropical forest are being cut down to give way for agricultural concessionaires. Many sacred forests kept for more than two centuries have finally disappeared. Reforestation remains bleak in the midst of massive deforestation.
The imprudent practices we adopt towards our wetlands and mangroves have caused problems such as over-harvesting of natural resources and reduction in biodiversity. We risk the very ecosystems on which our survival depends.
Most mangroves are being cut down for energy purposes and wetlands filled for construction of settlements and other infrastructural facilities. Many residents build latrine facilities hanging on the wetlands and mangroves while others connect their sewer pipelines directly to the wetlands and mangroves, yet a lot more people create garbage sites within and around the wetlands without consideration for the environment. Every so often, certain portions of the wetlands and mangroves are very filthy and sting.
Moreover, the degradation of animals' habitats, as well as the hunting, killing, and poaching of already endangered species, is responsible for the extinctions of most animals, from mammals to birds, all over the world. This is not a far-fetched problem. It is happening right here in Liberia. Every day, we keep hunting for a host of wild animals for life-sustaining purpose with already scarce nutrition.
In the populous commercial district of Red-Light, there is a section dedicated to the sale of bush meat. Around S.D. Cooper Road and between 15th and 16th Streets along the Tubman Boulevard in flourishing Sinkor, young men and women are seen daily selling fresh bush meat and living wild animals.
For the most part, environmental education, conservation techniques and the importance of environmental protection and sustainability are never taught in our elementary and secondary schools.
Thus, the majority of the population most especially young people have little or no knowledge about the associated benefits of conserving the environment. The consistent, persistent, and insistent pollution of the environment is causing serious public health implications and threatening the livelihood of the very people who pollute these valuable nature reserves with direct economic consequences.
It is saddened to ignore the facts of a legitimate scientific debate on our environment. Our country is losing its biodiversity. Our shoreline is getting eroded. Climate change is happening faster than predicted impacting on people's health, extreme weather changes are surpassing its usual statistical range, compounded with immense human activities.
With these alarming and heart-breaking challenges, it is time for the electorates to vote a presidential candidate who will prioritize environmental protection as a core issue. It is time to strongly reject a presidential candidate who does not care about environmental sustainability.
It is time to vote for a presidential candidate that will support the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forestry Development Authority and other relevant government institutions to establishing a platform where solution-driven research projects to protect the environment and save our people will become actualized.
This is no time for despair, but for resolving issues on Ecosystem and biodiversity, Water Security and Climate Change, and Health Sanitation, and Sustainable development. There is simply no time for political rhetoric.
Our choice for president should be someone with proven records of environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. It should be someone who will concentrate on ensuring a greener environment, safer water, cleaner energy, better organic food choices, and stronger environmental projects and programs.
We must commit our next president to strengthen mitigation efforts to reduce the glopping and glaring effects of climate change. We ought to vote a president who will support more grassroots and community-based actions needed to clean our beaches, restore our marine habitat, establish marine protected areas, safeguard our wetlands and mangroves and invest in ecotourism to create jobs for the many already unemployed young people.
We have to increase environmental education and advocacy in families, schools, religious institutions, businesses, political parties and just everywhere. We cannot afford to keep silence on the environmental tragedies around us.
We cannot allow our forest to be cut down every single day. We cannot sit in our individual corner and watch our ocean being polluted as coastal erosion swallows our people homes. And, we cannot agree for our wildlife to be hunted and killed every moment.
It is time to stop consistently and persistently trying to tear down our environment. We must all work together to find ways to increase nature as opposed to destroying it. Whosoever we elect president comes November 7, 2017, must invest in urban agriculture, aquaculture, sustainably-managed forests, ecotourism, and renewable energy to boost our economy and build a resilience environment.
Our choice for the next president of this great country must be someone who will remove trash from the environment; replant Liberia's forest, and create bio-engineer ecosystems to be more productive and bio-diverse than would naturally occur. All of these things and more can be done if our next president firstly prioritizes the environment which will contribute to the wellbeing of our people economically and socially.
Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. For more information about YES work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org.
Ambulai Johnson is a blogger and Technical Researcher of Research Consortium for Public Health, Energy and Environmental Development. He has been trained in the fields of Natural Science, Public Health (Preventative Medicine), and Health Economics, Climate Change, Water and wastewater Treatment