From left, refugee camp residents and tree nursery volunteers, Zahrah Ali Shom, Bakhita Gaber Hamid and Ekhlas Saed Gorashi pause in their tasks while Osman Yusif (kneeling), with the Sudan Red Crescent Society, has a close look at terminalia mentalis seedlings tended by the women at the Girba Refugee Camp in eastern Sudan. IUNV volunteer Murdakai Titus brought the seeds from Nigeria to help improve the landscape of Kassala area camps he serves as a UNHCR Associate Eligibility Officer. (Murdakai Titus/UNV,2010)

World Environment Day 2011

Forest conservation and natural resource management become more sustainable when there is ownership at the community level.

Today, on World Environment Day 2011, we reflect on the achievements and contributions of volunteers to the environment and to development at large.

This year’s theme, ‘Forests:  Nature at Your Service’, comes quite timely as the international community gears up towards the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

Throughout the history of mankind, forests have provided necessary resources for the advancement of civilization and our wellbeing. Yet forests need our protection.  The years 2000-2005 witnessed an annual loss of 4 million hectares of forests in Africa and 3.7 million hectares in Asia and the Pacific. More than one-third of annual global forest area loss takes place in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In all these instances, those who are impacted the most are poor, vulnerable and marginalized people, those whose livelihoods are dependent on the status of forests.

Since its inception, the environmental movement has been fuelled by voluntary action. Volunteers promote community participation and self-mobilization. Empowering communities at the grassroots level to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development gives them a voice and ensures sustainability.

Participation changes attitudes towards environmental issues and provides the knowledge and exposure necessary to make sound decisions to combat harmful practices.  Forest conservation and natural resource management become more sustainable when there is ownership at the community level.

The United Nations General Assembly recognized volunteerism as an important component of and strategy aimed at poverty reduction, sustainable development, health, disaster prevention and management, social integration and overcoming social exclusion and discrimination. All these aims are cross-cutting and interlinked; and sustainable forest management and conservation is no exception.

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme makes a unique contribution to sustainable community-based management of natural resources as the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. We believe that community-based approaches provide us with an effective means of achieving sustainable development, which must address social, economic and environmental pillars simultaneously.

We thus welcome this year’s World Environment Day and celebrate environment volunteers and their inspiration in action.