This paper aims to address the need of pandemic in our planet and how it has benefited us in a positive way. It also deals with how and why pandemics are caused and the positive and negative impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the environment. At present the COVID-19 has caused many challenges due to human destruction on the environment. It is never too late to start a new beginning. Thus we can protect our environment from future pandemics by combating air pollution, eliminating medical waste, striving to achieve sustainable development goals etc. The Government must act diligently and enforce laws which will demolish all the illegal acts committed by human beings and make our planet a better place to live in. We must keep in mind that COVID-19 is a wakeup call for us to put an end to the destruction of nature.
Nature is our life-support system. It provides so many essentials like water, clean air, fertile soils and a stable climate. Unfortunately, human activities are placing these natural systems under greater stress, and in turn exposing our society and economies towards higher risks.
Environment includes water, air and land and the inter-relationship which exists among and between water, air and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism and property;[i] According to the WHO“A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease.”
NEED OF PANDEMIC
Greenhouse gas emissions reduces, due to rapid decline in travel and economic activity.
The Earth has recovered from degradation and pollution. Reducing air pollution can reduce climate change risks. The air quality and mutually-affective connection between humans and nature has been improved.
IMPACT OF PANDEMIC
1. Changing Landscapes
Humans are demolishing the natural landscapes which reshapes the interactions between animals and humans, which also changes the dynamics of the transmission of viruses. We interrupt their ecosystems, hunt them, build houses next to them, grow livestock next to their populations etc. We allow the viruses they carry to emerge in our own populations.
2. Habitat Destruction
Habitat destruction can lead animals to move to a greater distance, carrying their pathogens with them.[ii] It affects the health of these animal hosts which in turn compromises their immunity and allows pathogens to grow. Another factor is that disruption of biodiversity disrupts the predator- prey balance. When predators disappear, often their prey, such as rats, bats etc. increases. These prey are the source of many of the pathogens that jump from the wildlife to humans.
3. Climate change
Climate change can cause animals to move to different areas, and by compromising the health of animals through reduced range of habitat and or less than ideal climate conditions in that habitat. Climate change increases natural calamities such as high rainfall and flooding that have substantial impacts on disease transmission.
4. Animal Trade
In the present era, wild animals are kept and sold, often in unsanitary and unhygienic conditions. Viruses and other pathogens will easily spread among animals that are kept close together; or to the humans who handle, transport, sell, purchase or consume them, when sanitary and protective practices are not followed. The unrestricted wildlife trade enhance the risks of emerging new viruses.
Forests cover nearly 30% of the Earth’s land surface. The increase growth in the human population lead to deforestation for resources, industries and land for agriculture or grazing. Raise in temperature and ocean levels, and increased rate of extreme weather events affect not only the land and ecosystem, but also human health. Deforestation also causes different types of disease due to the birds, bat-borne viral outbreaks. The primary tools of prevention is forestation and respecting wildlife habitats.
IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS ON ENVIRONMENT
Coronavirus is an ongoing pandemic disease caused by bats and originates from China.
1. Positive impact of coronavirus on environmental protection:-
Decrease in Carbon emission and global warming
During the COVID-19 lockdown the air travel dropped by 96%. In China, the air quality has been reformed and Carbon emission fell by 25%.[iii] If annual carbon emissions decline of up to 17%, it would be the biggest drop since World War II.[iv] This can be decreased mainly through reduction of transportation usage and industrial activities.
Traffic pollution is considered as a significant source of NO2 emissions. Approximately 4.6 million people per annum die worldwide due to poor air quality. NASA suggests that the environmental quality has been improved and emission of NO2 has been reduced upto 30%.
Water quality and Wildlife
The increase in water quality was due to the settling of sediment that is disturbed by boat traffic and the decrease in air pollution along the waterways.[v] During this lockdown as hunting, slaughtering and transporting has been restricted there has been a rise in the biomass of animals.[vi]
2. Negative impact of coronavirus on environmental protection:-
Disposal of waste
The pandemic has led to an increase in the creation of waste. The huge demand for disposal of medical products such as single-use gloves, surgical masks and empty IV bags during the pandemic has created a lot of medical waste.[vii]
Poaching and deforestation
Poaching and deforestation have increased since the commencement of the COVID-19 lockdown. It affects our health and also the health of our economies are inextricably linked to the health of our planet.
3. Suspension of environment policy and laws
The pandemic has affected the environmental policy and climate diplomacy, as the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic after its venue was converted to a field hospital. This conference was pivotal as nations were scheduled to submit enhanced nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement. The pandemic also restricts the ability of nations, particularly developing nations with low state capacity, to submit nationally determined contributions, as they are focusing on the pandemic.[viii]
MECHANISMS TO PROTECT OUR ENVIRONMENT FROM FUTURE PANDEMICS
Some of the ways to protect our environment form future pandemics are:-
Launching a global effort to identify viruses in wildlife that could likely emerge in future.
Discover the risks that lead the viruses to spill over from wildlife into the human population.
Combat air pollution. People living in areas with higher levels of air pollution are more vulnerable to premature death from pandemics.[ix]
Eradicate medical waste and develop vaccines to prevent the pandemic.
Rapid recovery and expansion of green trade and investment will promote economic recovery while boosting the green transition. Aiding developing countries in building resilience and greening their export sectors.
Strive to achieve sustainable development goals such as:-
● Acknowledge and value the role of nature in reducing systemic risks, and diminish the risk of future zoonotic disease outbreaks by addressing their root issues.
● Invest in sustainable infrastructure and stronger public health and environmental protection.
● Stimulate energy transition and tackle fossil fuel subsidies.
● Improve global cooperation and coordination to more effectively respond to other global crises.
● Safeguard the ecosystems on land and in water and combat global heating.
The government has to enforce laws to eliminate the medical waste and destruction of nature from supply chains of goods and on the public to make their diets more sustainable. We need strong legislations which ceases us from importing and exporting food that is the result of rampant deforestation or whose production ignores poor welfare and environmental standards in producer countries. The government must ban illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade as well as the devastation of forests and other wild places which are the driving forces behind the increasing number of diseases leaping from wildlife to humans. Such actions will protect people from future pandemics like coronavirus. Therefore, in the light of the national security, biosafety and public health, it is crucial to globally ban wildlife markets and trades.
Environmental change is one of the biggest obstacle in the 21st century. Pandemic is a threat to human health, however it is also considered as a “Blessing in Disguise”, where pollution is diminishing and nature is recovering itself. This beneficial effect on the environment may be temporary but governments and individuals should learn from this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on how to minimize pollution on a long term basis.
COVID-19 pandemic exhibits its two faces on one hand it executes worldwide demolition, but on the other hand it has shaped a very positive impact on the world environment. We must rebalance our relationship with nature which will create a healthier and more prosperous future for people and the planet, and sets us in a better position to combat future pandemics.
[i] Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, section 2(a), No.29 of 1986(India).
[ii] Jeff Berardelli, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-environment-pandemic-infectious-diseases, CBS News, 2April,2020
[iii] Myllyvirta, Lauri (19 February 2020). “Analysis: Coronavirus has temporarily reduced China’s CO2 emissions by a quarter“. CarbonBrief. Archived from the original on 4 March 2020. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
[iv] “Carbon emissions fall 17% worldwide under coronavirus lockdowns, study finds”. www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved 30 May 2020. “Global carbon emissions dropped 17 percent during coronavirus lockdowns, scientists say”. NBC News. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
[v] Srikanth, Anagha (18 March 2020). “As Italy quarantines over coronavirus, swans appear in Venice canals, dolphins swim up playfully”. The Hill. Archived from the original on 19 March 2020. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
[vi] Korten, Tristram (8 April 2020). “With Boats Stuck in Harbor Because of COVID-19, Will Fish Bounce Back?”. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
[vii] “Discarded coronavirus masks clutter Hong Kong’s beaches, trails”. Hong Kong (Reuters). Reuters. 12 March 2020. Archived from the original on 21 March 2020. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
[viii] “Cop26 climate talks postponed to 2021 amid coronavirus pandemic”. Climate Home News. 1 April 2020. Archived from the original on 4 April 2020. Retrieved 2 April2020.
[ix] Amit Sabil, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/COVID-19-pandemic-environment-protection-pollution-amit-sibal-6393959/lite “It’s Not Economy v. Clean Air”The Indian Express,May 5,2020.