Our future is NOW

OUR PLANET 9.1 - The Way Ahead

Our future is NOW


Bonjour! Hamjambo! Je m'appelle Maurice Njoroge. It is a great honour for me to speak to this particular Governing Council of UNEP on behalf of the world's youth. Like me, UNEP is 25 years old. I wonder how many of you can remember being 25.

As I was catching a matatu bus to today's meeting I could not help but reflect on how much change there has been here in Nairobi and around the world during UNEP's and my lifetimes.

I and my friends live just a few minutes away from this beautiful UNEP headquarters. My home is Kenya's Mathare Valley, one of Africa's largest and poorest slums. More than 70 per cent of the residents there are young people like me and our hardworking mothers.

Although we live just down the road, we have none of the things you have here. We lack clean water, roads, electricity, toilets, garbage collection facilities, health care and security. We have little chance of getting real jobs or livable incomes. We try to make the best of what we have, but it's hard. We are also worried about what the future holds.

Please make sure, in every decision you make at this meeting, that you give the poor, the environment and us - the next generation - a chance for a healthier, longer and productive life.

A top concern

A major threat to our lives is one of UNEP's top concerns - clean water. For that water we pay three to four times more than the ambassadors and businessmen living in the elite Muthaiga area next door.

When water is scarce, we get less and we pay even more. Then during the rainy season, we are surrounded for weeks by too much water which is contaminated by piles of uncontrolled garbage. Then, even more kids get sick and die, especially from diarrhoea. This is the situation you find in most developing countries.

This is the hardest thing to understand and to accept. How can we possibly justify that the poor pay more than the rich for water? The real cost isn't only the money. We, the poor, also pay more in lost health and lives.

Land is also a key issue. Our families are crammed into small plots and shelters, most owned by others. We live on borrowed time and borrowed land. There would be enough resources to meet everyone's needs, if we eliminated greed.


Fair shares

1997 represents 25 years after UNEP and I were born. For young people, who represent the majority of people in the world, the most important issue is the fair use and sharing of resources. Although that will help, it is not enough. It must be a sustainable use of resources for today and for tomorrow.

Short-term benefits and greed have made the world a very difficult place to live in. To be a young person today, one can both be disappointed and frustrated - we cannot work alone towards achieving our dreams.

When you were young, did you dream that some day you would be sitting here representing your country and deciding on the future of the planet?

I and my friends, we dream that we might get that chance some day. But we also dream that we might get a better chance to show that we can improve our lives today and to influence decisions that affect our lives tomorrow.

Staying alive

In fact, I would like to be the Secretary-General of the United Nations some day. Maybe 25 years from now. But before I achieve that dream, there are several challenges that I would have to overcome. One of those challenges is staying alive. To stay alive, human beings have to cut down the last tree. We do not want that to happen. We are young and we are optimists.

You have a great responsibility in this meeting. Your decisions will affect real life. The lives of people who inhabit this planet. It is a matter of choice - our future, yours and mine, is now.

Address made by Maurice Njoroge, a 25-year-old Kenyan, to the 19th session of UNEP's Governing Council, February 1997.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Harsha Batra: The planet does not belong to grown-ups only (UNEP 25) 1997

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