Zaheer Allam: “Our planet threatens to self-combust and we are watching passively.”

Zaheer Allam is one of the three persons nominated by the UN to sit on the steering committee for the upcoming SIDS (Small Island Developing States) conference taking place in Samoa later this year. The other two are Hemsing Hurrynag and Joseph Yannick Gael Cornet.  The three nominees, all Mauritians, were selected from an area encompassing the Indian Ocean, Atlantic and South China Sea. Regrouping 55 countries, the SIDS are low lying coastal countries facing imminent threat from global warming devastations.
Hemsing Hurrynag is an activist from Pesticide Action Network whilst Yannick Cornet and Zaheer Allam are the founding members of the Plateforme Citoyenne, an NGO which has been driving ecological activism in the country and notoriously known to be the major advocate against coal powered plants on the island.  News on Sunday talks to Zaheer Allam and his colleague, Dr. Julian Bolleter, from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC) to explore avenues on developmental challenges faced by the SIDS.Zaheer, how did you get involved with the United Nations and learn about your nomination?
The Plateforme Citoyenne is always on the lookout for new opportunities to take our voice further and share our concerns oriented towards the preservation of our eco-system. Over the past few years, we have been tirelessly advocating in Mauritius, and the conference in Samoa seemed like the perfect opportunity to share our concerns and ideas on an even bigger platform, a global one! Yannick Cornet and myself lodged our candidacy for the committee around 6 weeks ago and was pretty surprised to have been selected among the impressive list of candidates. It’s a great honour and we hope that our work will be the catalyst for change.For the last few years, you have been the voice calling for a sustainable urbanism in the country; is this a topic that you plan to tackle through the SIDS?
Definitely, our urban fabric in itself reveals the unfortunate flaws that arise from our selective and interpretative adoption of mechanical concepts over humane ones. I hope to bring to light the numerous pitfalls in the theory and application of “sustainable” development, and invite introspection and challenge. We need to expose our own inequities and question whether we are truly doing right to our planet. All too often, in various disciplines, we willingly blind ourselves to the fact that day by day, our climate continues to be subject to upheavals, our carbon dioxide emission is sky rocketing, our glaciers are retreating and our sea levels are rising; little daily changes that over time accumulate to hasten global warming.Our planet threatens to self-combust and we are watching passively. It is important to realise and acknowledge our responsibility in this process. Our work more than ever, should be clear in purpose, focused on the usage of appropriate philosophies, intent on pursuing not only urban construction but also regeneration of nature and dedicated equally to the service of status and wealth, as it is to social equity.

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