Living in a healthy environment is my right

During the talk back show on Wednesday 2nd June 2010, the public was told that, the changes to the Environment Act 2000 to Article 69  STAY OF OPERATION OF ORIGINAL DECISION, does not impinge on the rights of local people. I am not a lawyer, but from my view as a conservationist and a landowner; gagging the public from contesting Environmental Impact Assessment decisions is an abuse of human rights, because every person  (and more so for the people who own land in the vicinity of project sites) reserve the right to protect the environment that sustains their livelihood – even if that means taking the challenge to the court of law because, these people will live with the consequences of activities that happen on their land.

The fact remains – Papua New Guineans will continually depend on the land to sustain their livelihood for a long time to come. Even the founding fathers of the PNG constitution recognized this in the Fourth Directive Principle of the  National Constitution. This Directive Principle states that we will strive to protect  the natural resources  that had sustained livelihoods since humans arrived on the island of New Guinea some thousands of years ago. Numerous commentators observe that, indeed, the nation of PNG has catapulted from the stone-age straight into the space-age in less than eight decades, this however,  holds true for only 20% of the population. The bulk of the population  in PNG (~80%) still depend on their environment to sustain their livelihood; the same way their forefathers lived. A healthy environmental is a prerequisite for this lifestyle.

Article 22 of the Human Rights declaration also states that everyone has a right to social security. Social security for any indigenous  person including any PNGean  is in an healthy environment; a piece of land (or waterbody or beach-front etc.)  to make, and sustain a livelihood. Indeed, owning a piece of land in PNG is security against poverty and hunger. Apart from being security against poverty, a healthy piece of land is the  protection of human health by way of water resource protection.

With the new proposed changes, the landowners’ future is now in the hands of the director of the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). The director reports to the government of the day. The changes in the law would not have caused such a hype if the people have trust in the government to look after their future, but with a below average track record – it is alarming for this generation of landowners to put their future and the future of their descendants in the hands of the government who, as is apparent now, wants to make money at the expense of the well-being of her people. How much money is enough money for economic development?

We cannot deny the fact that, without manufacturing industries, the only option for PNG is to sell her natural resources to raise the capital needed for economic development – sadly, the government seems incapable of finding that fine balance between exploiting for  economic development  and protecting the environment to preserve the livelihood of her people.

An healthy environment is a basic human right – every Papua New Guinean, including politicians come from a village and belong to a tribal group that owns a piece of land. Therefore, when it comes to protecting a piece of land,  the fight should spring up intuitively from deep within. The proponents of this law, must either be living in denial of their roots, they have been brainwashed  or  they just don’t realize the implications of their action and are just puppets controlled by  greed.

Papua New Guineans want this draconian piece of law withdrawn! It is completely unacceptable and certainly not in the best interests of the 80% of Papua New Guineans who live off their environment (forest, fishing ground, river streams).

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