IV. MEASURES FOR INTEGRATING ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS
B. Measures used to achieve stated environmental policies and an evaluation of effectiveness
3. Public awareness
Any regulatory system, whether command and control or self-regulation, will work more efficiently if the population is environmentally aware. In recent years, Fiji has put some effort into environmental awareness programmes. The programmes have been carried out by the Department of the Environment and several NGOs. But despite such efforts to raise environmental awareness, the open response to the environmental degradation in Fiji by the general public has been relatively poor. A survey carried out by SPACHEE in 1992 indicated that the reason for the public remaining quiet on issues concerning the environment was the inability to articulate concerns and an unwillingness and inability to act on them. It is a cultural trait among the communities of Fiji not to speak out.
The survey focused on four target groups: people living in coastal/fishing areas, forest and inland areas, agricultural areas and urban areas. It also indicated that although most people probably had an understanding of the concept of the environment and ecological relationships, they ware not familiar with the common English usage of the word “environment”. There is, consequently, a need to either use another term in awareness campaigns or to make an effort to better familiarize the population with the term “environment”. The word must come to symbolize the more important human and environmental interrelationships which are currently under stress in Fiji.
All communities seem to be aware of the more specifically “natural environment-based problems”, resulting both from human and natural causes. However, there seems to be relatively limited appreciation of the more socially, or economically, induced environmental problems such as breakdowns in agricultural and food systems, urban crowding, urban population growth, and increasing poverty and social disruption.
In Fiji's multicultural society, with its imbalances in land ownership, economic involvement and cultural values, it is not surprising that there is a wide divergence in environmental awareness and appreciation. However, it is clear that the landowners will determine the efficacy of initiatives in sustainable resource use and environmental control.
Environmental awareness and sustainable resource use have much in common with traditional stewardship of communal lands. But the tangible constraints of environmental management will nonetheless be viewed by many of the modern generation as another form of exploitation of the landowners, this time by preventing them from utilizing their natural heritage to their own advantage and at their own discretion. For example, among landowners there generally appears to be a surprising lack of understanding regarding the effect of slash-and-burn cultivation on long-term land degradation. Far greater effort will need to be directed to explaining the benefits of sustainable resource use to landowners, as a component of increased communal participation in the allocation of resource usage.
In developing public awareness of environmental issues, Fiji has the advantage of high education participation rates (over 98 per cent for 6 to 11-year-old children). The adult literacy rate is 85 per cent, one of the highest in the South Pacific.
The school curricula were recently changed to include issues on the environment. An Environmental Education Unit was set up within the Ministry of Education to support that change. However, environmental issues are not taught as a separate subject and are not likely to be in the foreseeable future. The argument is that there is not enough space and time in the school system to accommodate varying subject interest. The content of environmental education in Fiji school curricula is distributed throughout the various subjects.
Aspects of environmental issues have long been part of traditional school subjects such as geography, biology, physics, chemistry and agricultural science. Many of those elements, however, have been seen as essential core subject material. It is only relatively recently, given the increasing international publicity of the threats to the global environment, that national education systems have deemed it essential to include important elements of environmental education in their curricula. There are now two formal courses at the tertiary level: the University of the South Pacific offers an environmental studies B.Sc. degree course and an environmental education diploma.
The Department of the Environment runs a number of small public awareness and education programmes, including weekly children’s segments in the newspaper, and distributes pamphlets on the environment. An Environmental Education Unit was created in the Department of Forestry in 1975. The unit was set up by utilizing Peace Corp volunteer assistance. The goal of the Unit is to develop a keen awareness, appreciation and understanding of forests and their interrelationship with people. The main project is the annual Arbor Week celebration. Arbor week has developed into a successful national event with wide community participation, which includes tree planting programmes in schools. The success of Arbor Week is reflective of the underlying community interest in environmental issues.
(b) Constraints in environmental education in Fiji
Environmental education is not taught by subject matter specialists. Some of the problems in formal environmental education may appear superficial, and pupils as well as the teachers have little experience of their gravity and magnitude. Thus the investigation of a problem may involve personal values with which teachers may not feel too comfortable. Further, desired attitudes will be easier to develop if problems are of such nature and magnitude that teachers and pupils alike feel personally involved in their solution. A training and retraining programme is needed for environmental education teachers.
Financial and staffing problems are ongoing constraints in developing environmental education. There has been a lack of recognition generally in the Education Department itself as to the value of its Environmental Unit. There is a lack of continuos close liaison with relevant bodies such as the Ministry of Education, Curriculum Development Unit, the National Trust of Fiji. Each tend to work on their own, with whatever minimal resource available to them. More could be achieved if resources were “pooled” and a close liaison existed continuously with existing bodies with environmental education interests.
(c) Effectiveness of public awareness programmes
Generally, public awareness programmes can be very effective in promoting sustainability, provided that they occur regularly. As noted above, the public in Fiji is aware of environmental problems, but the inability to articulate concerns and an unwillingness and inability to act on them remain a problem. A kick start could be provided by the government and NGOs through the launch of a nationwide sensitizing programme; NGOs and statutory bodies can continue from there.