World Environment Day – Connecting People to Nature
Connecting people to nature is the theme of the World Environment Day, this year. This year’s theme is an invitation for all of us to contemplate about how we are an integral part of nature and is also a call for us to appreciate the bounty of nature and take action to ensure that it is conserved and cherished and does not lose its pristine character.
Since 1974, which was when the first World Environment day was celebrated, it has been the United Nation’s primary means of driving global awareness and action for the protection of the environment and the world around us.
Many, many years ago, much before the world was anything like what we know now, Man lived in harmony with nature. Even the Rigveda which is an ancient Indian collection of hymns that date back to 1500-1200 BC talks about the close connection between Man and nature. It talks about the 5 elements of the environment, namely, Earth, Water, Fire, Ether, and Light and their interdependence and importance. It was only much later, that Man in his quest for technology, power and supremacy started ravaging the very elements of Nature that sustained life on earth.
Thankfully campaigns like the World Environment Day and many others have started making a difference. Countries have started realising the importance of preserving and nurturing the environment and are involving all stakeholders towards conservation efforts. According to the Environmental Performance Index countries like Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and many others have made giant strides in their efforts in environment protection.
However, this World Environment Day, it is time to pay tribute to the efforts of a tiny country situated near the Equator which has turned the protection and sustenance of nature and environment into a national passion.
Rwanda- A Country Blessed By Mother Nature
This country is Rwanda in Africa, a landlocked nation with a population of 11.61 million and covering an area of 26,338 square kilometres, making it the 149th largest country in the world in terms of area.
The 2017 World Environment Day theme of connecting people to nature, seems to come alive in the picturesque country of Rwanda. Nature seems to serenade the cities, towns and villages of the country and the people seem one with it. A visit to Rwanda is indeed an opportunity to lose oneself in the lap of nature. Thousands of hills, valleys, lakes and rivers seem to sing the glory of nature, while the National Parks of the country are a silent testimony to the conservation efforts of the country, the million smiles of the people seem to reflect the blissful aura of nature.
As you move around the country, you are struck by the impeccable cleanliness all around, cities and small villages, spick and span without a speck! No fluttering paper or plastic to impinge on the sanctity of nature and you wonder how all this has come about? Is it strict legislation by the authorities? How has this country been able to maintain the natural ecological balance and teach a lesson or two to the World?
Connecting People with People and Nature through Umuganda
Rwanda has drawn heavily from its own culture and traditional practices to forge simple and workable strategies for the holistic and balanced development and growth of Rwanda. One of these initiatives is Umuganda which literally translates as “coming together for a common purpose”.
Every last Saturday of the month is declared as Umuganda day and the entire population of Rwanda comes together and joins hands to work on community projects. The projects range from cleaning the surroundings to building schools. The day sees all establishments closed and everyone including visitors joyfully participate in an exercise that has worked wonders for Rwanda.
Umuganda not only ensures a spick and span Rwanda, but also cements the bond between its citizens and generates a feeling of national belonging and pride which is so much more effective and lasting than any legislation. Just imagine what could be achieved if the concept of Umuganda was adopted and implemented by all the countries of the World.
Saying No to Plastic
If you happen to be travelling to Rwanda, make sure you are not carrying any contraband. The contraband being referred to here is plastic. Since 2008 the use of plastic bags has been banned in Rwanda and is illegal. Chances are you will be screened for plastic when you land in the country and politely advised not to use plastic during your stay there.
REMA (Rwanda Environment Management Authority) which is the apex body working on Environment Management in the country has the stated vision to ensure that “all sectors of the Rwandan Society value and undertake sound environmental management and rational use of natural resources in order to contribute to the national aspirations for sustainable development”.
Conservation of Wildlife
Rwanda’s conservation efforts are focused on its three protected zones of Akagera National Park, Nyungwe Forest and the Volcanoes National Park. Of these, the success story of Volcanoes National Park is a shining example to the World. The Mountain Gorillas have been brought back literally from the verge of extinction through constant and dedicated efforts and research of all stakeholders including Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Recently the price of Gorilla Permits has been increased from $ 750 to $ 1500. This has been done to increase sustainability of conservation efforts and also to ensure that the communities living around the park benefit more from the tourism revenue.
The breathtaking beauty of the Nyungwe Forest which is most probably the best preserved montane rainforest in Central Africa and the wild beauty of the Akagera National Park are silent testimonies to the conservation efforts of Rwanda. Akagera National Park is now home to the big 5 consisting of Rhinos, Lions, Elephants, Leopards, and Buffaloes, 20 black rhinos were recently introduced into the park.
We traveled across Rwanda and wherever we went; we were met with the sight of immaculate roads and well-manicured gardens. There was no jarring sight of plastic or any other waste on the roads or at any public place.
The forests were a pleasure to behold as they retained their pure and virgin beauty, untouched and unspoilt. The people too seemed to be an extension of nature as they blended seamlessly with the environment and were proud of their contribution to ensure that their country moved rapidly towards their vision 2020 which would see them as a knowledge base, environment friendly and middle-income country.
Remarkable Rwanda holds up a beacon to the world. Will the other nations take a leaf out of Rwanda and review their own environmental policies and programmes on World Environment Day? Again it is the duty of each one of us to be responsible for the environment, we need to embrace responsible travel, responsible travel for families as well as be a responsible solo traveler. We all need to become more responsible travelers to make the world a better place for you and me.
This article about World Environment Day was also published on Huffington Post. Check it out here.
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