06 June 2005

Environment atlas shows worldwide devastation

The devastating impact of mankind on the planet is dramatically illustrated in pictures published on Saturday showing explosive urban sprawl, major deforestation and the sucking dry of inland seas over less than three decades.

Mexico City mushrooms from a modest urban centre in 1973 to a massive blot on the landscape in 2000, while Beijing shows a similar surge between 1978 and 2000 in satellite pictures published by the United Nations in a new environmental atlas.

Delhi sprawls explosively between 1977 and 1999, while from 1973 to 2000 the tiny desert town of Las Vegas turns into a monster conurbation of one million people - placing massive strain on scarce water supplies.

"If there is one message from this atlas it is that we are all part of this. We can all make a difference," UN expert Kaveh Zahedi told reporters at the launch of the "One Planet Many People" atlas on the eve of World Environment Day.

Page after page of the 300-page book illustrate in before-and-after pictures from space the disfigurement of the face of the planet wrought by human activities.

UN Environment Programme chief Klaus Toepfer has chosen efforts to make cities greener as this year's theme for World Environment Day on Sunday on the basis that the world is becoming increasingly urbanised.

"Cities pull in huge amounts of resources including water, food, timber, metals and people. They export large amounts of wastes including household and industrial wastes, wastewater and the gases linked with global warming," he said in a statement.

"Thus their impacts stretch beyond their physical borders affecting countries, regions and the planet as a whole.

"So the battle for sustainable development, for delivering a more environmentally stable, just and healthier world, is going to be largely won and lost in our cities," Toepfer added.

The destruction of swathes of mangroves in the Gulf of Fonseca off Honduras to make way for extensive shrimp farms shows up clearly in the pictures.

The atlas makes the point that not only has it left the estuary bereft of the natural coastal defence provided by the mangroves, but the shrimp themselves have been linked to pollution and widespread damage to the area's ecosystem.

And images of the wholesale destruction of vital rainforest around Iguazu Falls - one of South America's most spectacular waterfalls - on the borders between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay evoke comparisons with a bulldozer on a rampage.

"These illustrate some of the changes we have made to our environment," Zahedi said. "This is a visual tool to capture people's imaginations showing what is really happening."

"It serves as an early warning," he added.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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