New Delhi: Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, experts and scientists have suggested a clear link between diseases like COVID-19 and environment. UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen said, “Nature is sending us a message with the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis.”
United Nations Environment Programme says that COVID-19 disease has underlined an important link between the health of people and the planet are one and the same. It states that human activity has altered virtually every corner of Earth, bringing humans into contact with new vectors. It further estimates that seventy-five percent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans cross from animals.
As per a study titled ‘Nature and COVID-19: The pandemic, the environment, and the way ahead’, the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have emerged from wildlife reservoirs linked to environmental disruption. The study decodes that the novel coronavirus was transmitted to humans via the wildlife trade, and its spread was facilitated by economic globalisation.
Whereas WHO says that climate change may indirectly affect the COVID-19 response, as it undermines environmental determinants of health, and places additional stress on health systems.
NDTV speaks with Environmentalist Sunita Narain, who heads the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and is a member of the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) about the same and what individuals and authorities can do to overcome future pandemics.
Talking about the relationship of the environment with COVID-19 disease, she said,
It is very clear that COVID has a major relationship with nature. What is very clear is that we know that zoonotic diseases or viruses that are found in wild animals are mutating and making their way to human beings. We already have Arabian Flu issue, Swine Flu and now COVID-19, which has literally destroyed the world.
Stressing on the fact that COVID-19 is giving everyone a stark reminder that we need to start taking the environment seriously, Ms Narain added,
One of the most important lessons COVID-19 has given us is that this is the time to repair our relationship with nature. Ecosystem Restoration is not just about the environment or ecosystem itself, it is also about the human beings and what we can do to restore our relationship with nature.
Highlighting the ways in which we can protect the environment, she said,
We need to make sure that we don’t destroy our habitats, where animals are found. That was the reason we up Ebola and many other such viruses moving to humans. We also need to change the way we do food production because in today’s time it is highly chemicalised and industrialised and is one of the major cause of the growth of viruses in the food which then makes it way to humans.
Further talking about the prevention part of COVID-19 disease and its link with the environment, Ms Narain added,
Today we know, to fight COVID-19, one of the basic ways is to wash hands –
but water must be available to people as well, to fight the battle. The irony of the situation is not only we are not harvesting enough rainwater but whatever we have – the rivers, lakes, all our water resources – we are destroying it with deliberate pollution.
Explaining the part of individuals and authorities in making sure the environment remains the focus and future pandemics can be prevented, Sunita Narain said,
We as individuals need to start making good choices, we need to make choices for the food we eat. It needs to be locally grown, it should be free from toxins like chemicals or pesticides. Whereas, authorities, need to make sure individuals have more means and money to buy good food and our producer of the food is well cared for. Individuals should start doing rainwater harvesting, authorities should make it compulsory for institutions and buildings. We also need to look at ways we can stop polluting our environment. Authorities need to think beyond toilets and look at how we are treating our sewage waste. Both individuals and authorities have the power to walk the talk by doing things differently. After COVID-19, the next big threat we are looking at is climate change, so no questions asked, we all need to come forward and do something to save the environment and safeguard ourselves.
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.