New Delhi: United Nations Environment says that climate change, man-made changes to nature as well as actions that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change, intensified agriculture and livestock production or the growing illegal wildlife trade, can increase contact and the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases) like COVID-19. It further says that for every new infectious disease that emerges in humans every four months, 75% of these emerging diseases come from animals. This means that there is a delicate balance between human, animal and the ecosystem.
NDTV speaks with experts and environmentalist about the learnings from the pandemic in the last one year that can help in restoring the lost balance and save the planet.
Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha said,
We have actually seen that how mindless economic growth had HASled to ecological disaster. Even the Lancet report recently said that COVID affect people more who are living in air polluted areas. So, it gives us more reason to understand that we all need to live in sync – one is the public health aspect and understand how environment affects all of us so that public health crisis in general is less. Secondly, we need to rethink our ways and habits and how we are running our planet. For example, lockdown has really changed our way to look at the blue skies and air we breathe, it has made us realise that yes all that is all possible, provided we do something about it.
Further talking about the new set of challenges that the pandemic has thrown up in last one year, he added,
COVID-19 has created its own set of challenges, one of which is waste. We are not realising it now how big the problem of waste management can be in the coming years – due to the health crisis, there has been a tremendous increase in bio-medical waste, we have to now look at PPE (personal protective equipments) suits that are used once by technicians or doctors and then disposed of, we have to see mask waste along with the other bio-medical waste, plastic waste and more. How are we managing it is still a very big question. Apart from this, there is water crisis as well, we are asking people to wash hands as frequently as one can, we are talking about washing hands for 20 seconds – what is the effect of that, we will know in coming years as we are already a water scared country. In the coming years, what we really need is to look forward and solve these issues otherwise we will be really struggling with all this, and it will create even bigger challenges, bigger and worse than COVID-19.
On the other hand, talking about the COVID-19 induced lockdown benefits such as clear skies and blue water, D. Raghunandan, Scientist, Delhi Science Forum said,
The major lesson we all learned during the pandemic was the fact that air and water pollution and crisis can be solved, if we take appropriate steps. Because of COVID-19 lockdown, across the world and especially in India, we started to notice these changes. Our air became cleaner, we started to inhale fresh air and same was true for water pollution. We have seen photographs floating on social media of Delhi – without haze and dust, we saw people from Punjab spotting Himalayas with snow. We could see blue colour water floating down the Ganga and Yamuna. Of course, all this came because of complete stop of industrial activities, no road transport and no discharge of effluents in the rivers.
D. Raghunandan further said that obviously we cannot replicate this practice and say we will beat air and water pollution. He added,
Lesson is not that we should stop all these activities and then only we will have cleaner world, but it is the fact that if we start controlling air and water pollution in a significant manner then change is possible. Unfortunately, this has not resulted in shift in policy changes in our country. We should give more focus on environment now and should definitely give major boost to greener sector, there should be more jobs and funding in this sector, it is then only we will be able to transform. We need to change our public transport to greener technology and there should be mass funding for it. Currently, we have very small projects which are being done and that is why less change is being visible. Once we have this on a large scale, we will see results.
Talking about how people can be more engaged or involved in taking care of the environment in general, D. Raghunandan said, “I have always believed this – you cannot rely on individuals changing their behaviour, if you want to change their behaviour, first there should be policy level changes. You should be able to incentivise a good behaviour and penalise bad behaviour and only then you can make a huge difference.”
Sharing an example, D. Raghunandan said that we should start incentivise people shifting to public transport by increasing taxes on private or personal vehicles. He said,
We can increase parking charges thereby deintensifying people taking out their own personal vehicles and further strengthening and improving the public transportation. Good example is Singapore, where even the upper middle-class people leave their transport at home and use public transport. In Delhi, we have for example the Metro service. But the problem is that the fare rates are so high that the common middle man wants to take out his motorcycle or two-wheeler for daily commuting. Therefore, policy measures need to be taken and that what will drive people’s behaviour.
Rajendra Singh, Water Conservationist and Environmentalist, also known as “Waterman of India”
also spoke about the COVID-19 learnings and added that India should take inspiration from only one fact, which is that without putting a single money, our Ganga and Yamuna got cleaned during the time of COVID-19 induced lockdown. He said,
We all need to understand one basic thumb rule, we need to live in sync with our environment, We need to understand all our activities have some or the other impact on the environment, so we need to be mindful. We are cutting forests after forests, without realising we are disturbing the flow of mother earth. The reason why we have so many floods and droughts are one simple fact – we are removing forests for our own development. Roots of the trees in forest are helpful in slowing the flow of the rivers, when we are cut forests, this flow gets disturbed and that’s the reason why heavy rains in some areas result in floods and other disasters. Two-third of India’s rivers are dead or dried due to deforestation. It is high time; we start taking action to protect the planet.
Why We Need To Take An Action
According to the UNEP Emission Gap reports the last four years were the four hottest on record. According to a September 2019 World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report, we are at least one degree Celsius above pre industrial levels and close to what scientists warn would be “an unacceptable risk”.
That’s where 2015 Paris Agreement comes in picture. It is a legally binding international treaty on climate change which was adopted by 196 parties, including India at the 21st Conference of Parties in Paris. The agreement calls for holding eventual warming “well below” two degrees Celsius, and for the pursuit of efforts to limit the increase even further, to 1.5 degrees. Experts feel if we don’t slow global emissions, temperatures could rise to above three degrees Celsius by 2100, causing further irreversible damage to our ecosystems.
Our glaciers and ice sheets in polar and mountain regions are already melting faster than ever, causing sea levels to rise. United Nations Environment states that almost two-thirds of the world’s cities with populations of over five million are located in areas at risk of sea level rise and almost 40 per cent of the world’s population live within 100 km of a coast. It says, if no action is taken, entire districts of New York, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, and many other cities could find themselves underwater within our lifetimes, displacing millions of people.
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.