Environmental ignorance reaches crisis proportions [Archives:2006/952/Health]

June 5 2006

Amel Al-Ariqi
[email protected]

“Beggary, qat, and electricity” were quick answers from various citizens asked the question, “In your opinion, what's the main environmental crisis Yemen is experiencing?” Others requested further explanation of the question, while some said they needed more time to determine an answer to the question. These unexpected attitudes and answers reflect Yemenis' environmental knowledge, with some citizens themselves confessing that they do not pay much attention to environmental issues.

Those responding immediately to the question did not give just one answer. Most agreed that Yemen is experiencing many environmental crises, to the extent that they couldn't give just one answer. However, they also insisted that public ignorance of how to deal with such issues aggravates the problems.

Environmental crises

Journalist Ismail Al-Ghabiri believes pollution due to vehicle exhausts and absence of sanitation services are Yemen's main environmental problems. “Many cities are experiencing these problems. We really need a rapid move to solve this problem, which has become the main reason for the spread of many diseases in these cities,” he stated.

Printing establishment employee Ameen Mohammed Al-Kaml agreed that pollution due to vehicle exhausts is Yemen's main problem. “Those who use diesel in vehicle engines don't care about air pollution their vehicles cause and unfortunately, the law preventing diesel use in car engines has not been applied yet,” he said. “The absence of any plan or measures to regulate the waste disposal process in many regions is another environmental crisis in Yemen,” he added.

Like her classmates, high school student Yusra Ahmed insisted that solid waste and garbage on the streets is the real environmental problem. “Although cleaners always make efforts to clean the street, people still throw garbage and papers because there are no containers for this purpose,” she explained.

Computer graphic designer Ramzy Al-Saqqaf considers groundwater pollution either by chemical waste or wastewater, as well as absence of green spaces in main cities, Yemen's major environmental problems. Whereas manager Qaid Alrdfani believes overfishing is a “very serious environmental problem in Yemen, as our economy is based on the fishing sector.”

Housewife Umm Ahmed believes Yemen's main environmental problem is overusing herbicides in spraying fruits and vegetables, as well as qat. “The problem lies in the fact that many farmers use such herbicides randomly and extremely. These herbicides are the main reason for the spread of cancers in Yemen,” she stated.

Journalist Yasser Al-Mayasi referred to the same point, adding, “I believe any environmental problem can be solved later, but this problem must be solved as soon as possible. It's a big issue that we eat fruits and vegetables contaminated with cancer-causing toxins.”

Environmental expert Khalid Harun stated that Yemen suffers many environmental problems. “However, if we consider each issue's importance, we'll find that the water reduction crisis is the most important environmental issue in Yemen.” He confirmed that Yemen's water resources are very poor, making water reduction an extraordinary issue requiring more attention.

Rules and ignorance

Pollution, water reduction and herbicide overuse undoubtedly are environmental problems in many nations. However, such problems become a serious crisis in Yemen, where there are many rules and regulations supposedly preventing any attitude that damages the environment. For example, there is a law preventing using diesel in cars, as well as many regulations regarding the process of digging wells for water. The environmental situation raises questions about such rules' efficiency.

Fadhal Al-Amdi pointed out that many citizens don't follow such rules because “they behave carelessly and selfishly.” He called for powerful authorities to force citizens to follow the rules. “For example, in Malaysia, there are fines against those who break the law and throw garbage on the street.”

Al-Amdi also blames local mass media “which failed to attract Yemeni citizens' attention and educate them regarding environmental issues.”

However, Al-Saqqaf said some purposefully intend to break the rules. “Although there is a law preventing smoking in vehicles, many times I will find a smoker on the bus. I feel ashamed if I ask him to stop smoking, as if I'm the one who broke the rule,” he said.

Secretary Abeer Al-Shami mentioned that most Yemenis have little environmental knowledge or education. “They mostly have no idea about the consequences of their negative behavior toward the environment.”

She also blamed involved environmental authorities, which have not provided citizens facilities or abilities enabling them to follow the rules. “For example, there are no waste containers or wastebaskets in many neighborhoods, so citizens throw garbage on the pavements,” she added.

Harun acknowledged the public's inadequate environmental knowledge. “Involved authorities should handle this matter. If there's no public awareness concerning environmental issues, it'll reflect negatively in citizens' behavior and attitudes toward the environment.”

Harun indicated that raising environmental knowledge is not a priority for many environmental officials or involved authorities. “Such environmental establishments mostly lack financial abilities to launch awareness campaigns or activities.”

Lack of knowledge is the main problem

Many environmental experts and organizations realize the importance of raising public awareness and therefore hold various activities in an attempt to enhance community participation in environmental issues.

For example, on Water Day, the Ministry of Water and Environment along with various NGOs arranged activities such as a drawing competition among school students, a children's puppet show, plays and sketches performed onstage.

Today and on the occasion of June 5 International Environment Day, the Ministry of Water and Environment and the German Embassy, with the association of many local establishments, join forces in organizing a cleaning campaign at Hammam Damt.

However, such activities still are held only occasionally; therefore, their impacts are only temporary. Yemeni citizens need to be more in touch with environmental issues. They need to know more about the consequences of their attitudes toward their environment and how intentional or unintentional ignorance of any environmental problem in the present means facing environmental crises in the future.