A Barbed reminder for the future President

A press conference has taken place in Kyiv as part of the civic campaign “New Citizen at which environmentalists declared mobilization. The leaders of prominent environmental organizations in Ukraine presented an analysis of the election programmes and called on the public to support their appeal to the candidates, in which they demand that specific measures are taken to resolve urgent environmental and social problems.

“We want to get at presidential candidates over the fact that in their programmes they demonstrate an unsystematic approach both to reform as a whole, and to finding a way out of the environmental crisis in particular”, President of the All-Ukrainian Environmental Organization “MAMA-86”, Hanna Holubovska-Onisimova, explains. If one is to believe the ratings, Ukraine has no chance of receiving a President aware of his or her duty to defend citizens’ environmental rights. The leaders of the presidential race do not even mention the environment, and furthermore get mixed up in the roles of branches of power. The concept of sustainable development is not found in the candidates’ programmes at all, which we assume indicates the inadequate level of awareness in their teams of the demands of the times”.

“Environmental issues in Ukraine are at once social and economic. This, unfortunately, neither politicians nor officials are able to understand”, Ihor Sirenko from the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine [NECU] says. Economic-political decisions are very often taken which have major environmental consequences. There could come a moment in the not-too-distant future when there will simply not be enough money in the Budget to liquidate all environmental catastrophes in Ukraine”.

A telling example is the environmental catastrophe of the North of Ukraine caused by the damming of the Black Sea Estuary Sasyk. According to Iryna Vikhrystyuk from the organization “Vidrodzhennya” [“Renaissance”] in the Odessa region. The sources of drinking water supplies for the entire region have been destroyed, territory flooding, the water is flourishing, fish has ceased to be safe for consumption. Furthermore, spawning has effectively been destroyed which has disrupted the bioresources of the entire Black Sea.”

Participants also pointed out that neither Ukrainian society nor the authorities understand the importance of issues linked with the development of the eco-network and the preservation of biodiversity. According to Oleksandr Stepanenko, from “Zeleny Svit” [“Green World”], Chortkiv, Ternopil region, one of the most accessible arguments is economic. He says that it will soon be necessary to pay big money to just see a patch of living nature. “Another fact is safety. There are studies which assert that for the normal development of a community 20-40% of the territory they occupy should remain in its natural state. At present in Ukraine the nature reserve fund constitutes a mere 5-6%, whereas in Europe the figure is at least double that”.

Participants could not fail to give attention to the role of civic society and its powers in forming domestic policy. After all civic society in Ukraine emerged precisely from the environmental movement and remains perhaps the only consistent bearer of environmental values and the principles of sustainable development.

“Ukrainian officialdom is used to taking all decisions behind the scenes, without public discussion and publication”, Olha Melen, lawyer for the international foundation “Environment. People. Law” (Lviv). Since 2005 Ukraine has systematically received criticism at the international level for its ignoring provisions of the Aarhus Convention, yet is in no hurry to improve the situation. Yet when State bodies do not ensure environmental safety and support of environmental balance, rational use of natural resources and observance of our right to a safe environment for life and health, public participation serves as a valuable instrument of influence on decision-making. It is by involving the public in governance of the state that we can preserve our natural resources, land for future generations.

Environmentalists expressed their view of how a new President should behave in order to resolve socio-economic problems during the press conference. The document produced has been tabled for general discussion to last until 11 January 2010. After that the documents, together with barbed reminders – living cactuses – will be given to the election headquarters of each candidate.

The initiators cannot predict who will become President, however promise to monitor its action on observing the environmental rights of citizens and creating the conditions for Ukraine to move towards sustainable development.

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