- Ecosystem defend us from diseases: Vandana Shiva
- Loss of river biodiversity is causing freshwater depletion: Rajendra Singh
- Biodiversity is vital to humans and its loss harms food chain: Experts
New Delhi: Humans are not the sole occupants of this planet but the choices and demands of this one specie seem to be threatening all other species and the very existence of the planet. According to experts, our everyday choices can have an environmental impact. When humans use natural resources or invade and exploit the forests, there can be large physical, chemical and biological consequences for ecosystems. A direct consequence of human actions is loss of biodiversity. The wide variety of species whether plants, animals, birds, fish, insects or microscopic organisms, are vital to maintain the delicate balance of this only know planet with life on it, say experts.
There are a number of issues threatening the biodiversity, from climate change to overexploitation of natural resources, asserts the environmental activist Vandana Shiva. She said,
Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times. It is a survival imperative. Some environmental gains were made during the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic as it restricted human activities but those are fast slipping away. There is a need to take policy decisions focusing on the interconnectedness of the environment, forests, agriculture, and people’s health.
D. Raghunandan of Delhi Science Forum says that biodiversity loss is taking place at a very rapid rate which means that a lot of valuable resources will vanish. He said,
Biodiversity is the variety of life and fundamental to the survival of humans. Biodiversity loss affects the whole of nature because by allowing the species to go extinct unnaturally or forests to disappear upsets the balance that is required for the support system on Earth. More and more species are becoming vulnerable and habitats are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate, with forest lands being converted development. There can be unforeseen consequences- ecological and economical, of the loss of biodiversity. However, people are not concerned about the long-term effects of disappearing species and depleting natural resources because of biodiversity loss.
According to experts, the following are five major reasons why humans should be worried about biodiversity loss:
1. Loss Of Biodiversity Can Result In Frequent Pandemics
Mr. Raghunandan said that humans are invading forests, the habitats of various species of animals and insects in an unprecedented way and thus, resulting in an increase in human-animal interaction which escalates the probability of viruses jumping from animals to human beings. These are called zoonotic diseases. He said,
The more human beings exploit biodiversity, the more the likelihood of such pandemics like COVID-19 to occur frequently.
Ms Shiva pointed out that about 300 new pathogens that have impacted humanity in the last 50 years are a result of the loss of biodiversity. She said,
In the past, the destruction of the Western Ghats led to the monkey disease and similarly, the Ebola virus, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) are all result of the invasion by humans into forests and destroying the environment. The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is also a result of invasion into the forest ecosystem.
2. Biodiversity Defends Us From Natural Calamities
According to Mahipal Negi, an Environmentalist based in Tehri, Uttarakhand, biodiversity conservation helps in reducing the impact of natural disasters. He said that with climate change, growing population and increasing human invasion in natural habitats and unsustainable use of resources, calamities like forest fires, floods and droughts have become frequent. The flood of June 2013 in Uttarakhand is one such example that was triggered by human lead biodiversity loss and caused a massive loss of life and economy, he said. Mr. Negi further said that after a calamity hits a region, it can recover fast from it if it has a rich indigenous biodiversity.
3. Biodiversity Loss Adversely Affects The Food Sytems
Mr. Negi highlighted that the loss of biodiversity is leading to food cycle changes at local and global levels. He said,
Biodiversity plays a huge role in food and nutrition for humans as it directly impacts the production of grains, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and other food items. Biodiversity is also important for the productivity of soil and impacts other food resources like livestock and marine species. Biodiversity loss that results in the loss of critical pollinators like bees and the loss of worms and other species responsible for soil quality will impact food production and disrupt the supply chain. For example, in Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, some of the indigenous vegetables that are extremely rich in iron and other nutrients have started to disappear. People are now relying more on warehouse stored unseasonal vegetables.
For example, the disappearance of bees and butterfly should be a concern because it will have a major impact on plant reproduction which will further affect the local and global food systems in the coming years. He added that the huge amount of pesticides strain over crops is one of the major reasons for the disappearance of bees apart from the loss of biodiversity.
Mr. Raghunandan highlighted that disappearance of bees and butterflies is also a stark indicator of rapid destruction of biodiversity that is happening and is visible in the Western Ghats, tropical rainforests in South India and to some extent in the North East Himalayas as well.
4. Depleting Biodiversity In The River Ecosystems Is Causing Lack Of Freshwater
Waterman of India, Dr. Rajendra Singh highlighted that due to dumping of untreated sewage, chemical wastes and industrial pollutants, and disrupting the natural flow of the water bodies by the building of dams, major rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Gomti, Mahi, Godavari, Damodar, Sabarmati and the Cauvery have been badly polluted. He said,
Due to human activities, there is no clean water left in our freshwater systems. The rise in pollutants is killing the rivers by harming the river biodiversity.
Mr. Raghunandan highlighted that the two species that are on the verge of disappearance from the river systems of India are the freshwater dolphins and ‘Gharials’ or gavials that belong to crocodilian family and are distinguished by their long thin snouts. It is because of increased human activities like building of dams, water transportations, recreational activities, pollution from industrial activities, rise plastic particles like fishing nets in the rivers, among others. Dolphins act as indicators of river health, according to scientists, and if the dolphin population is thriving in a water body, then the overall state of that freshwater system is also likely flourishing, said Dr. Raghunandan. Dr. Singh says that the disappearance of ‘Gharials’ from the river Ganga has impacted the health of the river as these reptiles act as natural cleaners of the river.
5. Loss Of Biodiversity Curtails Ecosystem Services
Mr. Negi asserted that biodiversity is very crucial for the functioning of ecosystem services essential for survival like providing oxygen, freshwater, food; moderating of climate; mitigating natural disasters like storms, droughts and floods among other. Every species in an ecosystem fulfils a role for the proper functioning of the ecosystem as a whole, said Mr. Raghunandan. Citing the example of the disappearance of vultures, he said,
India’s vultures are facing an unprecedented decline. It is estimated that over 90 per cent of the country’s vultures have already disappeared. These large birds are nature’s ‘garbage men’ as they clean up the environment. Scientists have found that one of the reasons of their disappearance is the pesticides and chemicals laden carcasses of animals they feed on and fall prey to poisoning. It IF vultures go extinct, it will increase the amount of carrion or the decaying flesh of dead animals and humans which will in turn spread various kinds of diseases.
According to Mr. Raghunandan, extinction of some species is also a part of the functioning of the ecosystem. He said,
There is something called a ‘background rate of extinction of species’. It is a part of nature. Evolution itself dictates that some species will survive and some will disappear. Nonetheless, what we are seeing now is the direct result of human activities. For example, human activities that result in climate change, deforestation, will result in biodiversity loss. Human-driven biodiversity loss is about 20-50 times higher than the background rate. It is unnatural.
He further said that biodiversity also helps in the evolution of new species in order to compensate the functions of the ones which went extinct.
Implement The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 In Its True Spirit And Undertake Policy Measures To Preserve The Biodiversity: Experts
According to Dr. Rajendra Singh, deforestation and urbanization are the biggest manmade factors responsible for habitat and biodiversity loss. He said that it is still not too late for the country to replenish its biodiversity and now it is high time that the central and state governments implement the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 in its true spirit. He further said,
The Act provides for the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of biological resources. Implementing this nicely laid down act would save the country from a number of avoidable problems and will also provide respite from air and water pollution to a great extent. However, 18 years have passed since the enactment of the Act, it is not being given its due importance as most of the local bodies across the countries have not prepared a register that records the region’s biological resources and so whatever environmental clearances are being given for various public and private projects are basically invalid.
He further asserted that the Act focuses on safeguarding traditional knowledge, preservation of threatened species, which in practice, have become secondary. This is leading to human-made evils like water scarcity and animal-human conflicts.
Ms. Shiva highlighted that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has been giving approvals to big projects that plan to operate in forests and urged the government of India to focus on conserving the forests and preserving the biodiversity that is left in the country after years of destruction in the name of development.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.