Thursday, August 26, 1999
Environmental destruction a
threat to languages
By NATION Reporter
The diversity of languages is being
eroded by the unabating destruction of the environment, the United
Nations Environment Programme has said.
Unep says the loss of linguistic
diversity represents a huge loss in intellectual resources,
necessary for solving the world's abounding problems such as
"Each culture and language is
a unique tool for analysing and synthesising the world," Dr.
Klaus Toepfer, the executive director of Unep says. "
To lose such a tool is to forget a
way of constructing reality, to blot out the perspective evolved
over many generations."
According to Unep's biodiversity
programme manager, Mr Bai-Mass Taal, there are close to 7,000
documented languages worldwide.
Of these, up to 5,000 belong to
indigenous peoples who represent the most culturally and
linguistically diverse peoples of the world.
And of all the languages presently
spoken, 2,500 are in danger of extinction, a threat now recognised
as a worldwide crisis, Mr. Taal said in commemoration of the fifth
International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on August 9.
The International Day for the
World's Indigenous Day was launched in 1994 by the United Nations
to raise awareness on the plight of this marginalised group of
people, and their untapped traditional wisdom.
The UN also inaugurated the
international decade for indigenous peoples which runs to 2004.
According to Mr Taal, these two
initiatives were intended to give indigenous peoples, such as the
Ogiek, a voice in national socio-economic and political affairs,
and therefore give them choices and greater opportunities in life.
Mr. Taal told journalists there
were 300 million indigenous peoples scattered in more than 70
countries worldwide who live in the environmental hotspots of the
These areas, their homes, are
threatened by over-exploitation of their great biological
diversity, and habitat destruction.
"There is remarkable overlap
between the mappings of the world's areas of biological
megadiversity and areas of high cultural and linguistic diversity,"
"Unfortunately, these are the
areas where biodiversity loss has been the most dramatic."
He says the destruction of forests
and other natural ecosystems has ejected indigenous peoples from
their homes, forcing them to migrate to urban areas and other
places where they could eke a living.
Their dispersal this way breaks
down community structures and cultures which promote the use of
The decimation of indigenous
languages breaks down a vital channel for passing on indigenous
knowledge and wisdom, an under-developed repository for
traditional, herbal remedies, for example."
As global socio-economic factors
disrupt traditional ways of life, indigenous peoples are
abandoning traditional behaviours, indigenous knowledge and their
languages which are the repositories and means of transmission of
knowledge on preserving biodiversity and promoting sustainability,"
The loss of language and culture
destroys self-worth limiting the potential of the affected peoples
and complicating efforts aimed at addressing vices such as the
breakdown of family structures, substance abuse and school
failures and dropouts.
Link : http://www.nationaudio.com/News/DailyNation/260899/News/News222.html