Admittedly, and this is really bad, there is no way we can tell how many people in Tanzania will ever lay their hands on the just-launched United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the social and economic costs of environmental pollution.
But even if the number of those in the know were to be established, how many of those would have taken the report seriously enough to take action aimed at taming the tide through deliberate effort to reduce the growing risks to human health and the environment mainly resulting from poor management of chemicals?
In its ‘Global Chemicals Outlook’, as quoted by a section of the media, the Nairobi-based UN agency finds itself compelled to elect to stop mincing its words and proceed to warn that the risks cited are made all the worse by the rampant and unsafe production, use and disposal of chemicals from developed countries to emerging and developing economies.
The agency was established primarily with a view to monitoring the status of the global environment, gathering and disseminating environmental information, and recommending appropriate policies leading to the promotion of international cooperation ensuring the sustainable environment.
It is also responsible for catalysing environmental awareness and action to address major environmental threats among governments, the private sector and civil society.
This role has special relevance for Tanzania and other developing countries and countries with economies in transition, all of which would benefit immensely from environmental capacity building and technology support.
Fortunately, not only has been such support been forthcoming but also many of these countries have set up national environmental watchdog agencies, but largely to little avail.
In Tanzania, for instance, the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) once used to fight hard to safeguard the environment. However, it has since visibly steam, with catastrophic consequences.
Even a ‘shotgun’ tour of urban areas in Tanzania will show the magnitude of the pollution staring struggling city, municipal, town and other authorities in the face.
UNEP is regarded as the voice for the environment in the UN system as well as an advocate, educator, catalyst and facilitator expected to help promote the wise use of the planet’s natural assets for sustainable development.
And so, understandably, it is not losing heart despite seeing things going contrary to its expectations – and is continuing to issue early warnings and assessments meant to forestall environmental disasters.
While international and other treaties can help, there is abundant evidence that this is only possible where and when the people themselves take full part in the implementation of those pacts and in keeping their own immediate surroundings clean and safe and in the safe use and disposal of anything and everything likely to inflict harm on the environment.
The cost of leading reckless lives can be horrendously high. UNEP notes that communities worldwide are increasingly dependent on chemical products such as fertilisers, petrochemicals, electronics and plastics for economic development and improving livelihoods.
It however warns that it would be catastrophic for the gains that chemicals can provide to come at the expense of human health and the environment. Oh, how crucial a warning! But, then, how many out there really care?