World Environment Day 2021: Looking Back At The Last Few Outbreaks And The Role Of Environment Degradation

World Environment Day 2021: Looking Back At The Last Few Outbreaks And The Role Of Environment Degradation

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), zoonotic diseases that spill over from animals to humans are interlinked with the ecosystem. In the recent past, human activities have destroyed many ecosystems that have resulted in the outbreak of numerous diseases and pandemics including COVID-19
Environment, Features, World Environment Day
- in Environment, Features, World Environment Day
World Environment Day 2021: Looking Back At The Last Few Outbreaks And The Role Of Environment DegradationViruses that are dangerous to humans generally come from animals like bats and rodents: Author David Quammen
  • Zoonosis is any disease that jumps from animals to humans
  • COVID-19, Nipah virus, SARS, MERS are some of the zoonotic diseases
  • The outbreak of diseases is linked to environmental destruction: Experts

New Delhi: Around nine years ago, David Quammen, Author, Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic had predicted a zoonotic in his book. Zoonotic diseases or zoonosis refers to any infection or disease that jumps from a non-human/ animal to humans. In 2019, the world witnessed the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 disease. However, COVID-19 is not the first zoonotic disease outbreak; from Ebola, Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), to HIV, Swine Flu, Lyme disease, Rift Valley fever and others, there have been multiple outbreaks and all are zoonotic diseases. None as big as the COVID-19 pandemic the world is grappling with, but these outbreaks are an ominous sign. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), zoonotic diseases are interlinked with ecosystem and in the recent past, human activities have destroyed many ecosystems that have resulted in the outbreak of numerous diseases and pandemics.

Also Read: Opinion: At War With The Ecology- The COVID-19 Pandemic Is The Biggest Environmental Crisis Precipitated By Humans

Urging the need to protect the ecosystem and in turn ourselves, Chandra Bhushan, CEO, International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iFOREST) said,

I am afraid that COVID-19 is not going to be the last pandemic that humanity is going to face. In 20 years of the 21st century, we have already had three pandemics whereas in the 19th century we had just one major pandemic. So, the frequency of pandemics is increasing and it is important that we recognise it and therefore, the decade of ecosystem restoration which is the theme of this year’s environment day is very very important.

Also Read: World Environment Day 2021: COVID-19 Will Not Be The Last Pandemic, Says Environmentalist Chandra Bhushan

Earlier Zoonotic Outbreaks

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS is a type of coronavirus which is caused by the SARS-CoV virus (now known as Stars-CoV-1, as a predecessor of the current Covid-19 causing SARS-Cov-2).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), SARS-CoV, the virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003, had its ecological reservoir in bats, jumped from an animal reservoir (civet cats, a farmed wild animal) to humans and then spread between humans. The symptoms of SARS are similar to influenza symptoms and include fever, malaise, myalgia, headache, diarrhoea, and shivering.

As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the first case of atypical pneumonia was reported in the Guangdong province of southern China on November 16, 2002. It was first identified at the end of February 2003 and the outbreak lasted approximately six months as the disease spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before it was stopped in July 2003.

WHO declared SARS contained in July 2003, but a small number of SARS cases were reported until May 2004 in Singapore and Taipei. WHO claims that those cases were a result of laboratory accidents or possibly through animal-to-human transmission. There are no vaccines to prevent SARS at the given time while experimental vaccines are under development.

Also Read: Coronavirus Explained: All You Need To Know About The SARS Epidemic Of 2002

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)

Middle East respiratory syndrome, commonly known as MERS, is a viral respiratory disease caused by coronavirus MERS‐CoV. MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia in April 2012 and is a zoonotic virus, which means it is transmitted between animals and humans, and it is contractable through direct or indirect contact with infected animals.

The origins of the virus are not fully understood but according to the analysis of different virus genomes it is believed that it may have originated in bats and later transmitted to camels at some point in the distant past. Human-to-human transmission is possible, but only a few such transmissions have been found among family members living in the same household. In health care settings, however, human-to-human transmission appears to be more frequent, says WHO.

A typical symptom of MERS-CoV disease is fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is a common finding, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported, states WHO. At present there is no vaccine or specific treatment available to treat MERS, but as per WHO, several MERS-CoV specific vaccines and treatments are in development.

By the end of April 2021, a total of 2,574 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS including 886 associated deaths were reported globally.

Also Read: Coronavirus Explained: What Is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus?

H1N1 Virus Or Swine Flu

Swine flu was the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century that occurred in 2009-2010 and was caused by an influenza A(H1N1) virus. It’s called swine flu because in the past, the people who caught it had direct contact with pigs. That changed several years ago, when a new virus emerged that spread among people who hadn’t been near pigs. Symptoms of swine flu include fever, cough, sore throat, chills, weakness and body aches. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are at risk from severe infection. The flu however, reached a post-pandemic phase in 2010, when the WHO announced that the virus will continue as a seasonal influenza virus.

However, India saw a significant swine flu outbreak in 2015, with nearly 30,000 confirmed cases and almost 3,000 deaths by March, 2015, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare data. Though in May, 2015, the government declared that the outbreak was over, India like the rest of the world, witnesses swine flu cases on a seasonal bases, especially in winter.

Also Read: How Did India Fight An Earlier Pandemic The Swine Flu Outbreak In 2015?

Nipah Virus

Nipah virus (NiV) is a zoonotic virus and can also be transmitted through contaminated food or directly between people. NiV was first recognised in 1999 during an outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia. During the first recognised outbreak in Malaysia, which also affected Singapore, most human infections resulted from direct contact with sick pigs or their contaminated tissues.

Later in 2001, the virus was recognised in Bangladesh and ever since then nearly annual outbreaks have occurred in the country. The disease has also been identified periodically in eastern India. In Bangladesh and India, consumption of fruits or fruit products (such as raw date palm juice) contaminated with urine or saliva from infected fruit bats was the most likely source of infection. It also spread directly from human-to-human through close contact with people’s secretions and excretions.

Also Read: New Study Reveals Global ‘Hot Spots’ Where New Coronaviruses May Emerge

In infected people, it causes a range of illnesses from asymptomatic (subclinical) infection to acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis. Infected people initially develop symptoms including fever, headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), vomiting and sore throat. This can be followed by dizziness, drowsiness, altered consciousness, and neurological signs that indicate acute encephalitis. Some people can also experience atypical pneumonia and severe respiratory problems, including acute respiratory distress. Encephalitis and seizures occur in severe cases, progressing to coma within 24 to 48 hours, says WHO.

There are currently no drugs or vaccines specific for Nipah virus infection.

Ebola Virus Disease

Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a rare but severe, often fatal illness in humans. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals (such as fruit bats, porcupines and non-human primates) and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.

EVD first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in what is now Nzara, South Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name, explains WHO.

The symptoms – fever, fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhoea and others – are very much similar to other infectious diseases like Malaria and typhoid fever which makes the distinction difficult.

Within the genus Ebolavirus, six species have been identified and cases of some species are still reported in various countries like this year Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reported cases of Zaire ebolavirus (Ebolavirus) infection. However, vaccines to protect against Ebola have been developed and have been used to help control the spread of Ebola outbreaks in Guinea and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Also Read: Coronavirus Outbreak Explained: What Is The Post-Pandemic Stage? 

The Relationship Between Human Health And Environment

David Quammen is not surprised by the way zoonotic has hit human beings. There are untold numbers of viruses living in our rich and diverse ecosystem. Every species of animal has its own viruses, said Mr Quammen while talking to NDTV. 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.

Also Read: UN Chief Calls For A Global Partnership To Address COVID-19, Climate Change And Achieve Sustainable Development Goals

NDTV also spoke with Inger Andersen, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UNEP to understand the link between environmental health and human health. Ms Andersen warned that because of the biodiversity loss that is happening on a large scale, over 60 per cent of non-infectious disease and about 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. She said,

Now, we have to understand that to a large extent, human activity is largely to blame. We have intensified agriculture, we have fragmented nature, we have expanded infrastructure, we have extracted resources at the expense of these wild remote bases. Factory farms are linked to 25 per cent of infectious diseases in humans and travel and transport and food supply chains have erased what were borders and distances between some of these diseases and their appearance.

In a nutshell, disruption of biodiversity and exploitation of the ecosystem is exposing us to life-threatening viruses and according to the experts, if we don’t act now, we will face more pandemics in the future. Therefore, this World Environment Day will mark the launch of the ‘UN Decade Of Ecosystem Restoration’, highlighting the need to take steps to restore nature and planet earth.

This decade is designed to connect, empower and build political momentum; generate scientific research and create a groundswell of support for actions on ecosystem restoration. A decade might seem like a long time, but scientists say that the next 10 years would count most in the fight to avert climate change and biodiversity loss, says Ms Andersen.

Also Read: World Environment Day: 75% Of Emerging Infectious Diseases Are Zoonotic, Caused By Biodiversity Loss, Warns UN Environment Programme Official

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 (WaterSanitation 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 pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene


Coronavirus has spread to 193 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 17,66,30,634 and 38,22,022 have died; 5,80,25,717 are active cases and 11,47,82,895 have recovered as on June 16, 2021 at 3:30 am.


2,96,33,105 62,224Cases
2,83,88,100 1,07,628Recovered
3,79,573 2,542Deaths
In India, there are 2,96,33,105 confirmed cases including 3,79,573 deaths. The number of active cases is 8,65,432 and 2,83,88,100 have recovered as on June 16, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths

59,24,773 7,652

1,41,440 8,982

56,69,179 15,176

1,14,154 1,458


27,77,010 5,041

1,62,303 9,859

25,81,559 14,785

33,148 115


27,48,204 12,246

1,12,792 1,456

26,23,904 13,536

11,508 166

Tamil Nadu

23,78,298 11,805

1,25,215 11,669

22,23,015 23,207

30,068 267

Andhra Pradesh

18,20,134 5,741

75,134 4,879

17,32,948 10,567

12,052 53

Uttar Pradesh

17,03,207 270

7,221 890

16,74,072 1,104

21,914 56

West Bengal

14,68,044 3,268

20,046 1,125

14,30,949 2,068

17,049 75


14,31,498 228

3,078 148

14,03,569 364

24,851 12


9,88,172 609

11,717 943

9,63,113 1,544

13,342 8


9,50,133 172

5,619 848

9,35,658 1,006

8,856 14


8,59,526 3,405

44,358 3,436

8,11,780 6,799

3,388 42


8,21,078 352

8,884 658

8,02,187 1,006

10,007 4

Madhya Pradesh

7,88,649 224

3,610 331

7,76,424 528

8,615 27


7,66,357 228

3,703 374

7,53,584 564

9,070 38


7,17,949 410

4,360 412

7,04,075 813

9,514 9


6,06,436 1,556

19,933 528

5,82,993 2,070

3,510 14


5,89,153 628

10,802 1,111

5,62,701 1,691

15,650 48


4,66,590 3,415

41,184 475

4,21,378 2,906

4,028 34


3,43,793 184

2,646 416

3,36,058 596

5,089 4


3,37,449 274

3,642 266

3,26,822 515

6,985 25

Jammu And Kashmir

3,08,726 715

12,407 1,125

2,92,114 1,830

4,205 10

Himachal Pradesh

1,99,197 321

4,050 382

1,91,737 691

3,410 12


1,63,048 327

4,175 231

1,55,926 548

2,947 10


1,13,192 355

4,668 279

1,06,828 629

1,696 5


61,200 40

486 21

59,917 58

797 3


61,096 785

8,744 301

51,354 476

998 8


60,385 536

4,886 65

54,870 596

629 5


42,759 450

4,430 99

37,579 542

750 7

Arunachal Pradesh

31,938 290

2,849 40

28,934 326

155 4


23,854 101

2,972 229

20,423 327

459 3


19,649 38

552 20

18,898 57

199 1


18,659 209

3,239 67

15,136 273

284 3


15,899 268

3,637 45

12,191 312

71 1

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,473 9

61 2

10,408 7



9,297 61

484 36

8,768 96

45 1

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,280 11

105 4

7,049 15


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