THREE CHEERS FOR SHEIKH HASINA
DR RASHID ASKARI
Sheikh Hasina’s winning the United Nations environmental award ‘Champions of the Earth’ is a new feather in her cap. However, this sort of news about our current Premier is not new on us. It’s known that Sheikh Hasina has a lot of strings to her bow.
She received many international awards in recognition of her works over the past couple of decades. For her courage and continued support for the humanitarian cause, she was given the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize by the UNESCO for the year 1998; the Mother Teresa Award by the All India Peace Council in 199; M K Gandhi Award by the Mahatma M K Gandhi Foundation of Oslo, Norway in 1998; the Pearl S Buck Award by the Randolph College in 2000; the Indira Gandhi Prize in 2009; UNESCO Peace Tree Award in 2014; and the recent UN environment prize – Champions of the Earth for the year 2015.
The Champions of the Earth is the UN’s highest environmental accolade conferred upon the outstanding individuals, ranging from leaders of the nations to grassroots activists and organisations from across the globe for leadership and advocacy of action on sustainable development, climate change and a life of dignity for all. Established in 2004, the Champions of the Earth Award has, until now, recognised 67 laureates in the categories of policy, science, business and civil society. Leaders like Al Gore, Mikhail Gorbachev and Marina Silva were awarded the prize. However, this year’s award has some added importance, for it is high time for global action to adopt the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda and to reach an agreement on climate change issues. The award testifies to the fact that the journey from a world of enhanced greenhouse effect to a low-carbon, resource-efficient, inclusive and sustainable one is not just possible, but already in progress.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has announced that serving as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, one of the world’s least-developed countries, ‘Sheikh Hasina has proven that investing in climate change is conducive to achieving social and economic development.’ UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner has made a formal statement that through ‘a number of forward-looking policy initiatives and investments, Bangladesh has placed confronting the challenge of climate change at the core of its development.’ He has highly appreciated Sheikh Hasina’s initiatives, ‘from climate change adaptation measures to ecosystem preservation legislation’ and expressed his satisfaction in the state of preparedness of the Bangladeshi people to face climate change risks and cushion the impacts of environmental degradation. Sheikh Hasina has been recognised by the UNEP for the demonstration of her ‘leadership and vision’ in making climate change an object of national priority and international campaign. Given her continued battle against the climate change agents, it’s no exaggeration to give her the biggest environmental award. It will rather encourage the people’s leader, Sheikh Hasina, to put more effort into her work and pave the way for developing an awareness of how the climate change effects can be controlled.
It is an undeniable fact that climate change has adverse effects on our planet’s geological, biological and ecological systems. These changes have caused large-scale environmental hazards to human health, such as extreme weather, ozone depletion, increased danger of wild-land fires, loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-producing systems and the global spread of contagious diseases. According to an estimate given by the World Health Organisation (WHO), ‘160,000 deaths, since 1950, are directly attributable to climate change’. Most of the studies suggest that the impacts of climate change on human society are overwhelmingly negative and the majority of the adverse effects of climate change are experienced by poor and low-income communities around the world. They have high vulnerability to environmental determinants and low ability to cope with environmental change. According to a report made by the Global Humanitarian Forum in 2009, there occur ‘more than 300,000 deaths and about $125 billion economic losses each year’ due to climate change in the developing countries, which manifests itself through worsening floods and droughts. This also raises questions of climate justice, since the 50 least developed countries of the world are responsible for not more than one per cent of worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases.
Climate change in Bangladesh is an extremely crucial issue. According to National Geographic, Bangladesh ranks first among the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the world. German Watch’s Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) of 2011 endorses this assessment based on the analysis of impacts of major climate events that occurred in the world since 1990. Located at the bottom of the mighty GBM river system (comprising the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna), Bangladesh is watered by a total of 57 trans-boundary rivers flowing down into it. The increasing population density, poverty, and ineffective and poorly-funded local governance have made the country one of the most environmentally vulnerable regions on the planet.
The above statistical analysis testifies to the fact that we are in urgent need of dealing with the environmental issues related to climate change, and the UNEP has quite rightly addressed it by way of awarding Sheikh Hasina the highest UN environmental accolade. She is a champion of the ecology movement and an early adopter of the climate change adaptation policy. She could identify the position of disaster-prone Bangladesh in this environmentally changing world and realise the magnitude of the problem of climate change. The UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, Robert Watkins, is of the same opinion. To quote: ‘As one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, Bangladesh understands the importance of addressing the impact of climate change.’
Sheikh Hasina undertook the ‘Progressive Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009’, which made South Asia the first developing region to frame such a coordinated action plan. Bangladesh is the first country to set up its own Climate Change Trust Fund and the government has allocated six to seven per cent of its annual budget on climate change adaptation. Under her leadership, the Bangladesh Constitution was amended in 2011 to include a constitutional directive to the State ‘to protect the environment and natural resources for current and future generations.’
Sheikh Hasina is a role model for people and countries who would like to join the global campaign of combating the adverse effects of climate change and making the planet suitable for human habitation in years to come. The UNEP hopes that she continue to be ‘an example to follow as world leaders seek to take action on climate change as part of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate conference in December (2015).’
Sheikh Hasina is trying not only to prepare her country and people for a long battle against the adverse effects of climate change but also to drum up global support for this great environmental cause. The honour conferred upon her will uphold the honour of her country too. We congratulate her on this great achievement.
SEPTEMBER 20, 2015