DUBAI // Most budding conservationists find it hard to be heard, but not Kehkashan Basu.
Kehkashan, 11, gained international attention with an eloquent letter to the UN Secretary General.
A pupil at Millennium School in Dubai, she came third in a global essay contest for young people to highlight environmental issues.
Kehkashan was the highest placed of the 849 entrants from the region, and was surpassed only by one pupil in Russia and one in the UK. She received an award in a London ceremony and was invited to a UN youth forum in Rio de Janeiro.
"I think the fact that I began every question with an 'if' was what made my letter stand out," Kehkashan said from Rio, where she will be making a presentation on water conservation.
"I drew up a picture of what has happened to the Earth because of our reckless attitude. That must have made them wonder."
The contest, run by the UK charity The Living Rainforest, was organised as a lead-up to the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, from June 20 to 22, where world leaders will debate poverty, social equality and environmental protection.
Kehkashan began her letter with: "'If' is indeed a strange word. Do you know why?"
She then asks questions about human failings that affect the environment: "If you had not kept the tap running while brushing your teeth as a child … if you had considered melting of polar ice caps to be important three decades ago … if you had been serious about stopping the ivory trade …"
The letter concludes: "Then, Sir, I would not be writing to you now to act and save our planet."
Kehkashan was born on June 5 - World Environment Day.
"[Conservation] is not a tedious task if you are passionate. And if we don't work now to reverse the damage, we might soon see polar bears under palm trees," she laughed.
Full text of the letter:
‘Dear Mr. UN Secretary-General,
‘IF’ is indeed a strange word. Do you know why?
If you had not kept the tap running while brushing your teeth as a child,
If you had considered melting of polar ice caps to be important three decades ago,
If you had not hunted the giant panda to near extinction,
If you had been serious about stopping the ivory trade,
If you had punished poachers dealing in tiger skins,
If you had not started using chlorofluorocarbons for refrigerants,
If you had stopped the developed nations from flouting the Montreal Protocol,
If you had stopped chemical bombs and napalm from being used in Vietnam and Iraq,
If you had stopped the ozone layer hole from getting bigger and bigger,
If you had listened, truly listened and not simply heard, Suzuki Severn’s concerns twenty years ago,
If you had halted the continuous genocide in African states ,
If you had listened to Mahatma Gandhi and stopped apartheid ,
If you had stopped the diversion of the Yangste and the resultant destruction of habitat,
If you had stopped the desertification and disappearance of the Aral Sea,
If you had taken action on the annual floods in Bangladesh and Thailand,
If you had stopped whaling and indiscriminate salmon fishing,
If you had prevented the Yamuna river from turning into a cesspool of waste,
If you had established a smooth supply chain of foodgrain distribution,
If you had stopped the politicians from creating the Somalian famine,
If you had laws to stop genetically modification of all our food,
If you had penalties in place for nations which allow foodgrains to rot,
If you had instituted harsh actions against female infanticide,
If you had provided equal opportunity for the girl child,
If you had not allowed nations to starve their children while spending millions on missiles,
If education had been made a birth right across the world,
If the colour of one’s skin did not matter,
If child labour was a punishable offence and not a flourishing third world custom,
If politicians and policy makers did not necessarily need to be fifty plus,
If oil was not more precious than blood,
THEN, Sir, I would not be writing to you now to act and save our planet.
Twenty years hence , I hope my child is able to write a thank you note to you on the occasion of Rio+40.
…. An urgent cry for action from Kehkashan Basu an 11 year old from Dubai