Social justice simply means ensuring equality and inclusivity in the society. It aims at fair treatment of all regardless of religion, tribe, race, gender and background. To have social justice is to have equal economic, environmental and political development. We cannot have economic growth, political growth and human well-being without having a healthy planet. The three most important resources that directly sustain us are water of course, soil in which our built environment and agriculture (feed) thrives on and air which we breath.
This brings in the concept of environmental justice. Environmental justice looks at the space you are in; you work, live or operate in. It promotes the fair distribution of environmental resources as well as environmental burdens. Both environmental and social justice has the community at heart. They both answer the questions of equal distribution of resources whether in an urban or rural space.
The people most vulnerable and most affected by social and environmental injustices are the poor, marginalized and indigenous communities. They directly depend on the resources and are less equipped to fight the effects of an injustice or adapt to it. When we think global, we have the ongoing debate of developing nations such as Kenya, feeling the effects of climate change and pollution caused by the developed nations. An example, due to climate change as a result of unsustainable development of the developed nations, we have food insecurity and reduction of yields in the agriculture sector of most developing nations since most of developing nations practice rain-fed agriculture.
Case of Kenya
Now, let’s dial it back and look at the current situation in Kenya. The questions are still the same, how do we ensure social justice? How do we ensure equitable distribution of resources? Again the question of social justice has the answers in environmental justice. Some of the social injustices we face are unequal distribution of resources in terms of energy, food (agriculture), health and also resource conflicts such as those in pastoral communities. This has further resulted in growth of some areas and marginalization of some.
Agriculture is the backbone of our country and at the same time it is majorly rain fed. At the moment, pest infestation such as the fall army worm and erratic and depressed rainfall, have led to poor yields. This has resulted to food insecurity and a high cost of living. Consequently, food prices go up and out of reach for some families especially in the marginalized and poor communities in Kenya. Small scale farmers, operate at a loss and the whole industry as a whole suffers major losses. The direct result of this is unequal economic growth and distribution of resources.
Energy is also another factor that ensures economic and social justice. Most of Kenya’s energy needs comes from hydropower, which is also rain dependent. This goes back to conservation again. We need our rivers and water bodies to sustain our energy needs about 70% of our power comes from Masinga dam, which is currently low in water levels. An increase in power prices has resulted to an increase in commodity prices, further leading to inequalities and negative economic growth.
Our health is also at the centre of it. Pollution has resulted in a lot of illness and cases such as respiratory illnesses and infections due to air and water pollution as well as soil contamination. Currently, the traditionally green areas such as Kericho are facing water issues and drying up rivers. This has led to rationings in the tows and directly depending on river water for domestic use in rural areas. The result of this is more health issues and further increase in cost of living.
Social justice is achievable; it only takes a shift in mindset. An example is finding opportunities in every challenge. There are immense untapped opportunities in the marginalized areas of Kenya such as northern Kenya; a good case example is Israel which practices modernized irrigation farming. It is also high time we shift from rain fed agriculture to irrigation and climate smart farming. Most of the conflicts arise from water scarcity or grazing land conflicts, so to solve this, the communities have to be at the centre; equal resource distribution and alternative sources. Let the sustinable development goals be our guidlines for development.
Today is World Social Justice Day, and as we mark this day, let us remember to fight for equality, inclusivity, the marginalized, indigenous, refugees and the poor. Let us promote the concept of equal resource distribution, think about how your actions affect others and while at it remember that environment is at the centre. A healthy environment translates to a healthy people.