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Earth Day observed internationally on April 22 every year has been passing Dominicans "like an exam", if we are permitted to use a local colloquialism.

This year was no different. In 2015, no person or institution paid any level of attention to one of the most important dates on the annual calendar for countries like Dominica where nature has become the main product.

It is amazing that not even the Waitukubuli Ecological Foundation (WEF), nor the Ministry of the Environment, nor the Forestry and Wildlife Division, nor the service organisations cared enough to observe Earth Day.

In fact, we have been told Dominica has not paid attention to Earth Day since the USAID/ENCORE project observed the occasion in Soufriere and Scottshead almost two decades ago. Earth Day was an opportunity to remind Dominicans, young and old, about the need to conserve Dominica's rivers, lakes, forests, coral reefs and other environmental treasures that we say are so rich and rare.

Through the observance of Earth Day the world hopes to rekindle public commitment to environmental issues. Earth Day is the world's largest civic event; it is celebrated by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities.

Among the many issues that people around the world discussed on Earth Day was climate change. President Barack Obama brought the issue to the forefront of national and international conversation in his most recent State of the Union address when he said, "No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change … If we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict and hunger around the globe."

Climate change has been defined as any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. This includes major changes in rainfall, more intense and frequent hurricanes and temperature increases, often referred to as "global warming".

The onset of climate change, growing demand on finite water resources from agriculture, industry and cities, and increasing pollution in many areas are hastening a water crisis that can only be addressed by cross-sectoral, holistic planning and policies – internationally, regionally and globally.

On Earth Day Dominicans would have renewed their commitment to the conservation of our rivers. As we indicated in an earlier editorial conservationists have raised the alarm about the state of our rivers. They warn that the entire Caribbean is slipping into the onset of desertification and that since Christopher Columbus arrived here in 1492 not a single river has grown by one inch.

Among the most urgent related global issues are access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Despite progress under the Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000, some 750 million people --more than one in ten of the world's population -- remain without access to an improved water supply. Women and children, in particular, are affected by this lack, as not only is their health compromised, but considerable hours are wasted in the unproductive – and sometimes dangerous – business of collecting water.

The statistics on sanitation are even less encouraging. Some 2.5 billion people still live without improved sanitation, and a billion people practice open defecation, making sanitation the least successful area of the MDGs. We cannot achieve a world of dignity, health and prosperity for all until we address this urgent need.

On Earth Day we would have discussed our preparation for the coming hurricane season. As we wrote in an editorial about a year ago, hurricanes have battered Dominica with increasing frequency and intensity and they have done untold damage to the agriculture and tourism sectors in particular. But given our experiences over the years, the most traumatic being Hurricane David in 1979, one would expect Dominica to be much better prepared for the impact of hurricanes and other natural disasters. But most islands of the Caribbean, including Dominica, seem to have adopted a fatalistic attitude towards hurricanes. They blow our way every year anyway so there is not much, we seem to have concluded, that we can do about them.

But we are wrong to think that way and based on our record of poor management of hazards, Dominica may be in for a rude awakening. The point we wish to make is that our laissez- faire attitude to disaster management is not due to a lack of knowledge and experience; we seem to be devoid of the political will to take the necessary action to be better prepared for the impact of natural disasters caused by hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes. It would appear that we give serious thought to natural disasters only at the point when disasters are about to strike but during the rest of the year we ignore essential institutions such as the Office of Disaster Preparedness and the Red Cross.

In spite of the fact that hurricanes have become a statistical certainty in the region our governments have not prepared as adequately as one would expect. For instance, adequate insurance coverage for the agricultural sector, or for any sector for that matter, is still a major concern. Additionally for decades agricultural economists have suggested various insurance schemes for agriculture, the life blood of our economies, but our efforts to implement them have been sporadic and inadequate. So Dominicans would have had much to discuss on Earth Day but again we have missed an opportunity.

In fact Dominica, the nature island of the world, seems to have a disturbing laissez faire reaction to international efforts at highlighting environmental protection. These include World Rivers Day observed worldwide in September and World Environment Day in June each year.

Maybe we have concluded that "we not in those world people ting" and that our environment will take care of itself. If that is the case we are seriously mistaken.


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