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Government officials and local citizens gather to discuss environmental problems

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-02-07

On January 28 the fourth annual Environmental Exchange Conference took place at the Okinawa Convention Center. The conference, which was sponsored and organized by the Okinawa Prefecture Environmental Preservation Office, focused on bringing together public citizens and different levels of government to discuss different environmental problems. Four guest speakers, representing various environmental groups, gave presentations on different themes about the environment, which their respective organizations were involved in. The other panelists were representatives from different divisions of the government, and were able to give comments and answers to questions pertaining to the discussions.

Members from the audience also participated, giving their view points on problems and solutions to both local and prefectural environmental problems. There were citizens from various volunteer groups, officials from different municipality government offices, and also many concerned local residents. Some of the topics discussed included the growing problem of hazardous waste, sewage treatment, and marine pollution. The Government seemed to answer most of the citizens grievances and worries with the consistent statement that there is generally a lack of funds and man power, but that they were willing to support and work with volunteer groups to help solve some of the problems.

The four guest speakers were able to each elaborate on their organization's efforts to stop environmental damage and bring about public awareness. Morishige Shimabukuro of the 'Mizu Midori Kangaeru-Kai' spoke about his group's efforts to help cleanup and preserve the Tengan river in Gushikawa. "We started last year in May, and we have set up a 'river watch' program to check the health of the river," said Shimabukuro. His organization involves children for the purpose of educating more people about the importance of rivers and their role in the environment. The group also volunteers their time to increase the greenery of the city and local areas.

The Okinawa Ocean Culture Environment Action Network (OCEAN) was represented by Edo Heinrich-Sanchez, who spoke about the initiatives of the United Nations for the 'Year of the Ocean'. The Ocean Charter is one of the tools they are using to promote the world wide event. It is a personal promise to take better care of our sea, and it is especially being aimed at students. "We hope to collect atleast 10,000 signatures from all over Okinawa," explained Sanchez.

Keiko Matsuda, another guest speaker, talked on behalf of the 'Fujin Rengo-Kai' , a volunteer group that tries to beautify the city and town with flowers and greenery. They have turned several places that were overgrown and covered with trash into nice landscaped areas, and also in some cases, recreational grounds.

The final guest speaker, Kaori Sunaguawa from the 'Okinawa Environmental Network', raised concerns over the dangers stemming from the United States Military Base's disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste here on the island.

The conference proved to be a valuable forum for communication between the government and citizens. Hiromu Inafuku, Chief Advisor to the Okinawa Prefecture Environmental Preservation Office, said, "The exchange of ideas and information between citizens and government is very important. We need to know each others positions and difficulties."

The support for volunteer groups protecting the environment over the years has been growing steadily, which has resulted in better communication and cooperation between the Prefecture Government and citizen's action groups. "We encourage more people to get involved. If someone has an idea or an opinion we would like to hear it. We would like to always have open communication, and be able to work together for the protection of the environment," further elaborated Inafuku.

The different representatives and citizens that participated in the conference all showed concern about the present condition of Okinawa's environment, but their also seemed to be a common agenda to work together for protecting the island's beautiful nature.

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