Thursday January 30 2014

Conserve the environment if we are to industrialise

By Dorman Ahumuza

China’s economic growth for the last three decades has been more than 8 per cent per year and as a result, the country has enjoyed rapid development and industrialisation. This rapid growth allowed China to become the second largest economy in the world. This has brought about both wealth but also other undesirable negative consequences, which have had far reaching health implications for the Chinese people.

A combination of industries producing at full throttle and the increase in cars per capita has created poor air quality, especially in the cities or urban centers. (Statistics from the Ministry of Public Security of China revealed that as of June 2012, China had about 233 million registered cars and motorcycles). Seven of the world’s 10 most polluted cities are in China, currently losing about 1 per cent of its GDP as a consequence of pollution (like airports being closed as well as some factories).

Smog as a consequence of environmental pollution is such a huge problem in Beijing that people hardly open their windows and children go outdoors less for fear of catching smog-related illnesses. This problem, if not curbed, is going to threaten the communist political establishment. There are fears that mass protests in the future could be a possibility. What a price to pay for development.

I guess there are lessons for Uganda as a developing country. Development is good but it comes with a price. Proper regulations and environmental responsibility are things that we need to start taking seriously. We need to put in place safeguards to ensure the development we have grows in a sustainable manner and that everything is done to conserve the environment.

Oil discovery in Uganda will be our test. When the process of extraction begins, it will be interesting to see how we handle the waste associated with oil. For example, surrounding lands near the oil fields can be destroyed if by-products are not contained and properly disposed of. Hopefully, there are serious policy safeguards and rigorous environmental regulations enacted.

As Parliament discusses awarding extraction contracts, I hope in the interest of posterity, more attention and emphasis is put on the cost of this development in terms of environmental conservation and protection.