Essay on "The Human Right to a Healthy Environment" - Part Two

Essay on

By Abraham Bastida Aguilar *

Situation of the Environment

Environmental problems are as old as man himself, the extent to which they occur in our times is different. The current environmental problems that our planet is going through stems from a series of disturbances resulting from human activities from very early times that date back to the time of Plato, however it is until the sixties when concern for the environment increases , especially in the highly industrialized countries of Europe and North America, due to the accumulation of waste produced by industrial activities, that is, the pollution of water, air and soil, points out Raquel Gutiérrez Najera in her book.

When health problems began to emerge in humans due to air and water pollution, and even an increase in the death of people related to pollution was recorded, the man realized that the environmental situation was in a alarming point and that something had to be done to avoid greater catastrophes derived from the environmental disturbances caused by it. "International meetings were organized with a scientific and later political character, in order to guide the actions of the different governments in relation to the environment and economic-social development, since not only the quality of life was in danger, but also life same on our planet ", Gutiérrez Najera points out in the aforementioned work.

The environmental disturbances with the greatest scope and concern worldwide are:

The percentage destruction of the ozone layer (ozonosphere) whose annihilation (without the need to reach 100%) would make the planet's continental, insular, aerial and surface oceanic life impossible. Ocean pollution, which fundamentally affects the base of the food chain, could affect both pelagic and benthic organisms, to such an extent that population recruitment was not sufficient to maintain survival levels in the populations; This, coupled with human overpredation of the ocean, may lead to the functional extinction of an increasing number of species.

Erosion derived from poor land use and the resulting desertification, together with gradual climate change, are two important and complementary aspects of human disturbance at the continental and insular level, which eliminates habitats and trophic relationships. and that leads to the elimination of populations and the gradual disappearance of species and subspecies at a local and global level.

The indiscriminate felling of the tropical forests of the planet with the consequent destruction of habitats and the correlative extinction of species both in situ and ex situ, disturbs the planet's climate, reduces genetic diversity, leads to soil loss and an increase in the runoff.

The devastation of temperate forests by acid rain follows the pattern of ecological disturbance of the equatorial belt. In addition, the change in pH of freshwater bodies also leads to the extinction of species and to the alteration of natural conditions. The generalized contamination of land, water and air by toxic waste and radiation.

The World Health Organization considers that water is polluted or polluted when its composition or state is altered in such a way that it does not meet the conditions for the use to which it would have been intended in its natural state. The definition includes modifications of the physical, chemical and biological properties of water. The origins of freshwater pollution can be urban, industrial and mining, as well as agricultural.

Pollutants are actually a great variety of substances capable, even, of chemically combining with each other; They can be grouped into organic (amino acids, fatty acids, esters, anionic detergents, annsines, amides, etc.) and inorganic, such as numerous dissolved salts in the form of ions (sodium, manganese, calcium, potassium, chlorides, nitrates, fluorides, bicarbonates, phosphates and sulfates). These substances can exceed the capacity of self-purification of the water that is given to it by the bacteria, and the life disappears completely from your breast by suffocation. The impact of pollution is greater in low flow rivers than in larger ones, but even some of these are already heavily affected.

For gases and particles to be considered pollutants, their concentrations must significantly exceed their corresponding normal ambient concentrations, that is, when substances in the air can cause adverse effects on man and his environment. The concentrations of reactive gases in the environment (SO2, H2S, CO, NOx, NH3, N2O, CO2 and hydrocarbons) have remained constant over time; This means that sources and weirs (formation and removal processes) are balanced, and also that weirs are able to cope with the additional load caused by man. The problem of gas pollution arises not as a result of the magnitude of the emission made by man (anthropogenic) but because this emission is concentrated in the regions where people live and work, specifically in industrialized cities.

The fundamental problem derived from these sources, and the consequent destruction of the ozone layer, lies in the possible greater entry of ultraviolet rays. It has been calculated that for every 1% of ozone depletion in the stratosphere there is a 2% increase in the amount of ultraviolet radiation that would reach the surface, so that a theoretical destruction of 50% would double the amount of ultraviolet radiation than in evolutionary conditions received the biosphere during the last 500 or 600 million years. Thus, the greatest danger to the ozone layer is constituted by halocarbons (carbon compounds that contain fluorine, chlorine, bromine or iodine) and among them the so-called freons or chlorofluorocarbons, mainly CFC 11 and 12, which are widely used as refrigerants, aerosol propellants and raw materials in the manufacture of plastic foams, since in their decomposition process they release atomic chlorine, which starts the catalytic cycle of ozone destruction.

One of the main damages of ultraviolet radiation are the changes or damages to the bases and polynucleotide chains produced to DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), since the distortion produced in this molecule prevents it from carrying out its functions; for example, it can block transcription and replication, it can cause cell death, genetic recombination, mutagenesis, and even carcinogenesis. Regarding the damage it causes to plants we can mention: reduction of photosynthetic capacity; strong accumulation of phenolic or flavenoid pigments; loss of chlorophyll by indirect enzymatic destruction; presence of mutations; loss of growth hormones; inhibition of seed germination; disturbances in the uptake and transport of ions; reduced and irregular growth; damage to the surface structure of the leaves; and deterioration of physiological functions and productivity.

Therefore, the main environmental problems in urban centers are sanitation and control of the quality of the environment: volume, composition and origin of solid waste (garbage), noise levels, high concentration of gases and particles suspended in the air. , as well as the generation and treatment of wastewater. By increasing exposure to environmental pollutants (physical, chemical and biological), especially in urban areas, industrial and tourist centers, the risk of contracting diseases that mainly affect human reproduction and its products increases.

Establish Environmental Education programs at all levels of education in Mexico, where, on the one hand, the merely informative and educational aspect on the biological wealth of our country, its importance, its conservation and current problems, as well as its options, is contemplated. from solution; and on the other hand, the conservation aspect, that of promoting a culture of interest, knowledge and respect for nature. For this, adequate training is required, being essential to have the exchange of experiences that have been carried out in other countries for the conservation and management of their natural resources. Likewise, it must have the financial, logistical and technical support of personnel from the different research institutions on natural resources existing in our country, in order to develop educational programs at various levels to update knowledge about our natural resources, their conservation and long-term sustained management, and at a global level, establish international programs for Environmental Education, nature conservation, prevention, abatement and control of pollution, as well as the strict application of the legislation that governs environmental matters. every country or region of the world.

Problems of the Water Resource

The demand for water grows rapidly with demographic expansion, industrial activity and tourism; The United Nations Environment Program publishes a study on the situation of natural resources in Latin America. It is indicated that agricultural irrigation continues to increase. Such pressure on water resources is complicated by the fact that many patterns of water withdrawal can be highly unsustainable. The pumping of aquifers at rates higher than what they require for recharge, is a particularly important aggravating factor. There is great ignorance about the natural limits in this area. Rising deforestation rates are believed to be contributing to the severe annual cycles of flooding and drought.

Despite the progress of the last ten years, access to safe water remains an important issue. The case of water is illustrative of the relationship between human rights, the environment and natural resources because without water or being polluted, life is not possible for all living beings. It was estimated that by 1995 27 percent of the regional population did not have access to drinking water and 31 percent continued without sewerage and sanitation services in Latin America. In addition, there are maintenance deficiencies in the existing systems and the existence of sewers does not always reflect that the wastewater is receiving sanitary treatment. In Latin America as a whole, it is estimated that only 2 percent of wastewater receives treatment.

The main cause of water pollution is the direct discharge of unprocessed domestic and industrial waste into surface water bodies, the UNEP study points out that this contaminates not only water bodies but also adjacent groundwater aquifers.

With the expansion of the mining industry and the use of agrochemicals, rivers and aquifers are polluted with organic solids, toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

Global freshwater consumption increased six times between 1900 and 1995, doubling the rate of population growth. About a third of the world's population lives in countries with moderate to high supply problems. There are acute supply problems in Africa and West Asia, but the lack of water is a limitation for Industrial and socio-economic development in many other places.

The Latin American region is extremely rich in water resources. The Amazon, Orinoco, Sao Francisco, Paraná, Paraguay and Magdalena rivers transport more than 30 percent of the world's continental surface water. With 12 percent of the total land area and 6 percent of the population, the region receives about 27 percent of the total runoff, most of it concentrated in the Amazon basins. However, the regional water supply shows significant variability between subregions and localities, as well as in seasonal terms.

Sediments produced by erosion, and the discharge of industrial and agrochemical household wastes are among the main causes of deterioration in water quality. As industry, irrigation and population grow, so do the environmental and economic costs of providing additional water, UNEP studies show.

The cost of providing water to cities is continually on the rise, with dramatic examples in large and growing urban areas. In Mexico City, water is pumped to heights greater than 1,000 meters to deliver it to the Valley of Mexico, and in Lima, contamination in the upper basins has increased the cost of treatment by about 30 percent. A high cost of desalination has also been observed in the Caribbean.

Investment in sanitation and water services offers a high economic, social and environmental return, but the next four decades in Latin America will see a tripled growth of the urban population and a five-fold domestic demand for water. It is important regarding the possible impact of a growth in tourism, which can consume up to five or ten times more than other residential sectors.

The people and the Government of the State of Mexico currently have a problem related to the production, distribution and disposal of drinking water that give us an idea of ​​the seriousness of environmental situations and the extraction of water resources that are used in the State of Mexico as in the past to give drink to Mexico City and its Metropolitan Area.

Regarding the Availability of Water by Hydrological Region. In the central and northern areas of the country, water becomes an element subject to high pressure and limiting development. The location of the main development poles is not consistent with the distribution of the resource in the country, for example the Valley of Mexico Basin, which concentrates 18.5% of the national population, is the one with the lowest availability.

The population in the State of Mexico is (more than 14 million inhabitants). 85% reside in urban localities, 15% in rural communities. 74% of the state population is concentrated in the metropolitan areas of the Valley of Mexico and the Valley of Toluca.

The water situation in the State of Mexico is an average annual rainfall of 876 millimeters. The extraction of twice what each of the more than 14 million inhabitants in the State of Mexico infiltrates, has an average daily supply of less than 242 liters / person, with a coverage of 90% to the population; national coverage is 86% in home intake.

In the State there are 57 municipalities with endowments less than 200 liters, 25 with endowments less than 150 and 5 with endowments less than 100 liters per inhabitant day, which are: Sultepec (94 lt.), Ecatzingo (92lt.), Zumpahuacán (90 lt.), Zacualpan (73 lt.) And Jilotzingo (62 lt.), The first four from the Rio Balsas region and the last from the Valley of Mexico.

The conurban municipalities that receive the lowest allocations are Ixtapaluca and Valle de Chalco Solidaridad with 116 liters per inhabitant per day, Nicolás Romero with 137 and Chimalhuacán with 143 liters per inhabitant per day.

The annual and seasonal highs have decreased their values ​​from the 400 IMECAS points recorded in 1992, to less than 200 points in 1999. The main pollutants that exceed air quality standards are: ozone, nitrogen dioxide and PM10 particles. Ozone pollution is critical, as it exceeds its allowable value most of the year.

The metropolitan area of ​​the Toluca valley constitutes the second industrial and demographic concentration (participation of 59% in gross domestic product) in the state; This area has undergone a gradual transformation of economic activities, going from being an industrial economy to one with a high concentration of services.

There is a shortage of territorial reserves with an urban vocation. The population demands more land to develop and the supply is decreasing. If we consider a demand of 70 thousand homes per year, 2,900 ha of developable land would be required in the future. To meet this demand, many times the population opts for irregular settlements in areas not suitable for urbanization, such is the case of the protected natural areas in the Cuautitlán-Texcoco valley (in the Sierra de Guadalupe State Park, 853 irregular settlements have been detected in the last 5 years).

These changes in land use imply: the reduction of natural areas, of habitat for wild, forest and crop species, as well as for the recharge of aquifers, giving rise to other phenomena, such as erosion.

Currently 12 tons of municipal solid waste are produced in the State of Mexico and it is estimated that by 2005 this figure will rise to 14,500 tons per day.

This natural or man-induced phenomenon presents various degrees; When erosion is severe, as is the case in several municipalities in the state, it makes it difficult to develop agriculture, and even native vegetation. These soils have generally lost more than 50% of their surface layer and are conducive to the progress of practically irreversible processes of desertification. Among the municipalities most affected by this phenomenon, with an area greater than 1000 hectares, are; Almoloya de Júarez, Aculco, Toluca, Atlautla, Ixtlahuaca, Temascalcingo, Otumba, Tepetlaoxtoc, San Felipe del Progreso and Tlalmanalco.

The clandestine logging, the abuse in many cases in the authorizations of forest exploitation and the change of land use for agricultural purposes, constitute another factor of loss of the state's forests, this situation is exacerbated in the areas bordering the states from Michoacán, Puebla, Morelos and the Federal District.

In addition to this, it is necessary to point out the high incidence of fires in the forested areas of the state, which causes low productivity; For the year 1996, there were a total of 2,771 fires that affected 15,000.3 hectares, of which 48% were pastures, 33% shrubs, 17 shoots and 2% wooded area. This situation is due, among other reasons, to the fact that the State of Mexico is one of the most populated entities in rural areas and the traditional practice of burning grass in forest areas for livestock purposes.

The reflections that remain for the present are in the sense that although it is true that there is a new ecological culture, this is not enough yet to create a new development model that takes care of the environment at the same time as satisfying the This is why an important task for ecologists, government and society is to generate better and better environmental protection attitudes through the dissemination of these issues.

* Presented at the Sixth Essay Contest on Human Rights and the Environment called by the Human Rights Commission of the State of Mexico.

Video: Virtual Seminar: The Human Right to a Healthy Environment with Dr Justine Bell-James (June 2021).