- Disruption of biodiversity exposes us to life-threatening viruses: Experts
- Lockdown can’t be the cost we pay for clean air: Dr Sunita Narain
- Nature-based solutions are required for development: Bittu Sahgal
New Delhi: The one thing that the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus has taught us is the importance of the environment and the fragile relationship human beings share with it and other species. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly stated the link between health and hygiene and the environment and has reinstated the concept of co-existence with nature. At the NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India’s #SwasthyaMantra telethon on October 2, industry experts discussed the same and the steps required to protect the environment and stop the future pandemics.
According to Swati Thiyagarajan, environment journalist, our entire survival is pinned by the natural world. Every bit of air that we breathe, all the water that we drink, every bit of food that we eat comes from the natural world. If the environment degrades, our health goes down the drain.
Further, Ms Thiyagarajan explained how COVID-19 disease is an environmental problem and said,
COVID-19 is a Zoonotic. A zoonotic is a bacteria, virus, fungi or prion that leaps from a non-human animal to a human. With the biodiversity lapsing and environment degrading, we are very much in the danger of having these pandemic cycles more often.
Apparently, eight years ago, David Quammen, Author, Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic had predicted a zoonotic in his book. Mr Quammen is not surprised by the way zoonotic has hit human beings. In fact, he said, there are untold numbers of viruses living in our rich and diverse ecosystem. Every species of animal has its own viruses. Explaining how these viruses leap into a human body, Mr Quammen said,
When we go into that ecosystem to bring out fossil fuels or kill animals or bring wood and for other purposes, we cause disruption, expose ourselves and become vulnerable to the viruses. It is then the viruses spillover. Viruses are more dangerous than any other kind of pathogens in this day and age. Viruses can thrive and grow in cells. Viruses that are dangerous to humans generally come from animals like bats and rodents.
In a nutshell, disruption of biodiversity and exploitation of the ecosystem exposes us to life-threatening viruses.
Bittu Sahgal, Founder, Sanctuary Nature Foundation resonated with Mr Quammen and explained the concept of co-existence with the famous phrase, ‘love me, love my dog’. Mr Sehgal said,
All the diseases like Ebola, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), swine flu, bird flu are zoonotic diseases. They either moved from one animal to another and then to humans or to directly from animals to humans.
According to Dr Sunita Narain, Director, Centre for Science and Environment, the COVID-19 pandemic taught us that environment needs to be safeguarded. During the coronavirus induced nationwide lockdown in India, everyone saw nature thriving but that is not the cost we can pay for clean air.
Talking about the problem of air pollution and the health issues that come with it, Dr Narain said, that come winters and the problem will be compounded as both COVID and pollution impact the respiratory system. She added,
We cannot discount the environment. We need to make sure that we have our economic progress but also have our right to breathe. We just cannot afford to discount the cost of bad air anymore. You cannot talk about health unless you talk about clean water. You cannot have clean water unless you talk about how you can make sure that you do not pollute your water, how do you make sure that you harvest the rain, how do you make sure that you can actually give people the right to water. We talk about the need to wash hands during COVID-19 but the fact is, a large number of people do not have access to clean water to wash their hands as a preventive agenda.
Dr Narain noted that today, we humans have a very dystopian relationship with nature and called to understand the critical role of environment agenda in the fight against COVID-19 and the right to health and safe environment.
Safeguarding The Environment And In Turn Human Health
Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, Trustee, Maharana Mewar Charitable Foundation, lent his support to the Banega Swasth India campaign and shared solutions to nurture the environment. Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar had recently created a Guinness book of the world record by planted 4,035 saplings in 60 seconds. Talking about the idea behind it, Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar said,
The idea was to be able to create awareness. I think there is a lack of awareness even in the urban population. It feels like the cheapest thing available in our country is human life. Therefore, first of all, we need to respect human life and secondly, everyone is going through life; the idea is to grow through life and what better way to grow through life than the environment itself?
For the campaign, Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar had chosen neem sapling and mango sapling because the two trees don’t stress the water table, especially during the harsh summer season. Mr Mewar also added that humans living around these trees can take benefit of it so in a way it’s generation planning without burdening the ecosystem.
Further talking about ensuring a balance between environment and economic development, Dr Niranjan Hirandani, President, ASSOCHAM India suggested creating urban forests, conserving water by the means of recycling and reusing water.
Giving more solutions to fix humanity’s dysfunctional relationship with the environment, Dr Narain said,
Make sure that agriculture systems are good for our farmers, they are good for nutrition and good for the environment. It is about making sure that we can rethink how we do basic development. During the lockdown, we saw an exodus of migrant workers and learned about the huge number of invisible people who work and toil in our city. We also realised that we have an economic growth model that discounts the cost of labour and the environment and that is not sustainable for either the plant or cities. And that can be fixed by making sure you pay the cost of labour, pay the cost of environment, maybe raise the cost of production, you consume less and that leads to a well being led economic model than a model which is based on just using and disposing of.
Bittu Sahgal suggested nature-based solutions and said,
To build dams we have damaged the large valley ecosystem. But dams are falling because catchments have been destroyed. Employ migrant labourers where they work to repair the ecosystems so that when the rain falls, less silt goes into our reservoir, more silt is stopped by those plants which mean carbon comes down and therefore, aquifers get filed, people get a job. Aquifers will feed farm wells and wells produce more food which will aid the economy. Why not invest in bringing back the degraded forests? If we make sure that the local communities are primary beneficiaries, we will be able to control the economy and prevent the next pandemic.
To protect the environment, Dettol India has taken a small yet significant step by introducing 100 per cent recyclable packaging for a hand wash bottle. The problem of plastic waste is huge; according to the estimates by the World Economic Forum, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. According to the experts, the consumption of plastic, especially single-use plastic has increased during the Coronavirus pandemic in the form of masks and gloves. Elaborating on Dettol’s efforts towards sustainable development, Pankaj Duhan, Chief Marketing Officer, South Asia Health, RB, said,
A hand wash bottle is made from 100 per cent recycled plastic. It is a limited edition that we have launched in Reliance stores as of now.
The recyclable packaging has been developed in association with ASSOCHAM that has been working with various industries to work on technologies that are different in terms of reuse of plastics. Dr Niranjan Hirandani informed us that ASSOCHAM is also working on using plastic in road construction and looking towards utilising e-waste.
Kris Licht, Global President, Health, RB, said that we need a recycling revolution and a packaging innovation revolution and added,
It important to increase access to recycled plastic. It is still an issue in many parts of the world.
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.