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March 21, 2022

Environmental rights are human rights  

 Environmental rights are human rights  

This Human Rights Day we speak to three activists about how environmental rights are connected to every aspect of our day to day lives. 

When people talk about climate change and environmental justice they often talk about things like environmental degradation, air pollution, droughts, floods and water scarcity as separate issues. In reality, all these problems are connected and part of complex global systems, which affect the health, livelihoods and futures of the most vulnerable members of society. 

Here three environmental activists share their first-hand experience of how these issues intersect in their own lives and communities. 

“To me human rights mean the ability to voice our grievances using laws that should protect us.” 

Tiny Dlamini is a member of MEJCON-SA in Gauteng province in South Africa. She has seen how environmental violations often affect the lives of women the most. 

“Climate and environmental rights violations affect everything under the sun – including things like health and employment – but the consequences often affect women the most, because women take care of their loved ones even in the midst of mayhem. Sometimes it is hard to know what to do or who to turn to but as a woman you must stand up for poor communities no matter what it takes, you just have to keep on pressing even if you are hard pressed yourself.” 

“Human rights are standards that recognise and protect the dignity of human beings.” 

“I am affected by heat, lack of rain, lack of water and contaminated air whereby I experience difficulties in breathing. In the area where I live plants are no longer growing as expected in terms of agricultural purpose and the water we drink is brown, and boreholes are very far away. Animals are no longer in good condition due to the grass they eat which is contaminated with coal.” 

This is the personal experience of Thabo Raliwedzha from Lephalale in Limpopo Province. In his experience fenceline communities experience the greatest effects of mining. 

“Environmental impacts also go beyond our environment to affect our economy, social life and most importantly employment and health.” 

“In particular I worry about the effect these things have on the youth in my area. Many of our youth focus on drugs, alcohol and taverns. The reason for this is often connected to the fact that miners give them money to divert them from focussing on their future and dreams. There are no skills centres or programs done in my area but we have lots of entertainment centres which mainly focus on alcohol or substance abuse. Social challenges like under age sex work is also prevalent.” 

Human rights means the right to have your dignity respected and protected as a human being.” 

Andries Mocheko, Secretary of MEJCON-SA, Lephalale in Limpopo Province believes that climate change and environmental rights violations affects everyone in the area where he lives.  

“Our region has been declared a climate change hotspot and our area has been declared an air pollution hotspot by former and late Minister of environmental affairs in 2012, because of the current coal mine and coal power plant that are in our area and also the mines that are already given green light to mine in our area.” 

According to Mocheko this has led to a variety of problems, including damaging blasting practices, overcrowded living conditions due to a sudden influx of people seeking jobs on nearby mines and water pollution. 

“I worry about the young people growing up in these conditions,” he says. “We don’t have time to waste, we need to change and respect our environment for the sake of future generations.”