Plastics in the environment
Plastics in the environment

We know that we have been sounding like a broken vinyl record. But we will keep playing that broken record- over and over again- until we say that enough already.

The fact is Dominica as the Nature Island of the Caribbean (some say "Nature Island of the World") has been taking its God-given gifts for granted. And this is obvious when one of the most important days on the calendar-of- days, World Environment Day (WED) observed on 5 June, come along and some official says a few words and we all go back to sleep.

Most significantly, in 2021 the United Nations have determined that the theme for WED will be "Generation Restoration" to draw attention to the fact that the world is losing significant amounts of its forest system.

"From forests to peatlands to coasts, we all depend on healthy ecosystems for our survival. Ecosystems are defined as the interaction between living organisms - plants, animals, people - with their surroundings," said the UN in its promotional literature for WED 2021. "Over 4.7 million hectares of forests – an area larger than Denmark – are lost every year. That's one football pitch every three seconds. Over half of the world's wetlands have disappeared in the last century".

"Africa had the highest net loss of forest area in 2010–2020, with a loss of 3.94 million hectares per year, followed by South America with 2.60 million hectares per year," states the Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) in a document entitled: The State of the World's Forests. "Since 1990, Africa has reported an increase in the rate of net loss, while South America's losses have decreased substantially, more than halving since 2010 relative to the previous decade."

Hence, the theme for WED 2021 should resonate with Dominicans whose forests were severely devastated, along with roads, bridges, and houses, by the category five Hurricane Maria on 18 September 2017. Photographs of the damage after Maria show thousands of logs scattered along beaches and river beds around the island.

A report produced by the Government of Dominica indicates that Maria inflicted damages on the forests valued at EC$80.2 million (US$29.7 million) and the country would have needed EC$40.2 million (US$14.9 million) to recover its previously rich forest resources.

"Huge, 120-year-old trees were lying on their side. Large limbs and branches were broken off once magnificent trees which were left standing, but with much-reduced and misshapen crowns. Some palms were leafless, while one of the largest trees in the Gardens was left with a long split running down its stem. To add to the scene, twisted sheets of "galvanise" were strewn helter-skelter, with one trapped between the roots of an uprooted tree," wrote Arlington James, the former Forest Officer about damage to the Botanic Gardens in an article entitled "How Hurricane Maria Ravaged Dominica's Botanic Gardens" published in The Sun in April 2018.

So, it will take another three decades for Dominica's forest to regain its pre-Maria standards.

But the state of our forests is only one aspect of our concern about our "gifts so rich and rare", as our National Anthem reminds us.

Yet, God Almighty gave us one of His most precious gifts- hundreds of rivers, the greatest abundance of freshwater per capita in the world.

And we continue to take these rivers for granted as if these waterways will be here forever; as if these rivers are curses and not blessings; as if these rivers do not have to be nourished and preserved; as if that great quantity of crystal clear water in these rivers is as useless as dirt.

What's amazing is that we are seeing these rivers drying right before our eyes, like wilting plants in the sun. And we say nothing and we do nothing. What a shame!

As you are aware, Dominicans prefer to remain silent about the sad state of our national patrimony, including our rivers, for fear of vicious and almost manic blowback from the ruling party and its supporters who erroneously believe that to be critical of your country is to be unpatriotic and even treasonous.

Unfortunately, this editorial will be dismissed as mere negativism. But as US senator J. William Fulbright said some time ago: "To criticize one's country is to do it a service... Criticism, in short, is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism--a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals and national adulation."

While we were looking for answers to our question concerning the state of our rivers we found it in a 2011 "National Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Policy paper" prepared by the Environmental Advisors Inc.

The report stated: "Though Dominica is well known as 'the land of many rivers and it is perceived that Dominica has an abundant source of water to meet all its needs, the reality is that this resource is finite, vulnerable, inextricably linked to the environment and impacted by development, human activities and climate variability. In fact, general sentiments of those familiar with the historic flow conditions of the rivers are that the abundance of water resources on the island is not the same as they once were".

That was nine years ago; the situation may have gotten worse.

As we said in an editorial last year on the subject of the environment, Dominica should be leading the way in celebrating, utilizing, and preserving rivers, waterways, and forests and events like WED should be one of the most important days on the island's calendar.

But it is not. Very likely it never will.