- Humans, environment and environmental health are one and the same: UNEP
- This World Environment Day let's move from crisis to healing: UNEP
- Zoonotic diseases that can be passed on from animals to humans on the rise
New Delhi: According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the issue of zoonotic diseases or zoonoses which are the illnesses that can be passed on from animals to humans is emerging as an issue of global concern. UNEP stressed that zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola, Swine Flu, Lyme disease among others are interlinked with the health of ecosystems. The degradation of the environment and the loss of biodiversity caused by indiscriminate human actions may result in frequent pandemics like the ongoing COVID-19 in the coming years. On World Environment Day which is celebrated every year on June 5, to raise awareness and action for the protection of the environment, NDTV spoke with Inger Andersen, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UNEP who said in her message that the time to act is now and we cannot afford to lose another hour ignoring the environmental crisis facing the planet.
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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.
She further said that COVID-19 is one of the worst zoonotic diseases known so far. In the last century,
Ebola, Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), HIV, Swine Flu, Lyme disease, Rift Valley fever- each one of these preceded COVID-19 and in the last century, we have seen at least six major outbreaks of coronaviruses.
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2021-2030: UN Decade Of Ecosystem Restoration
Ms Andersen said that the pandemic has shown that there is an urgent need to rethink the human relationship with nature. With an aim to work towards this, the UNEP has decided to dedicate the decade 2021-2030 to ecosystem restoration. This year, the world environment day will mark the launch of the program ‘UN Decade Of Ecosystem Restoration’, she said.
In 2021, we must take deliberate steps to move from crisis to healing. And to do that, we need to recognize that restoration of nature, restoration of our planet is the way to go, it is imperative to the survival of our planet and to the human race. This decade is designed to connect, empower and build political momentum; generate scientific research and create a groundswell of support for actions of 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 to avert biodiversity loss.
Talking further about why it is imperative to take immediate environmental actions, Ms Andersen said that by degrading the natural world, people are chipping away AT the very foundation of what makes their well-being possible. Be it food, water, shelter, clothes, climate, economic growth, all of these are provided by the nature, she said. Ms Andersen added,
At the end of the day, humans, environment and environmental health are one and the same. And that must be the learning we all must take from this terrible pandemic of COVID-19 and the tragic suffering that we are seeing around the world including in India.
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Achieving Sustainable Development Goals By Averting Climate Change And Biodiversity Loss
According to Ms Andersen, now is the time, the chance that humanity has to put the planet back on a sustainable course. She said,
By restoring the ecosystem, we are addressing sustainable development and therefore, hitting on the targets of sustainable development goals. And in doing so, we are safeguarding human well-being and health as we are taking care of this planet.
Out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the following seven have a direct relation with environmental issues:
SDG 1- No Poverty
SDG 7- Affordable and Clean Energy
SDG 11- Sustainable Cities and Communities
SDG 12- Responsible consumption and Production
SDG 13- Climate Action
SDG 14- Life Below Water
SDG 15- Life on Land
In its ‘The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020’, the United Nations has said that while each of these targets was showing slow progress before the pandemic hit the world, these have become increasingly hard to achieve because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
As the climate emergency intensifies, Ms Andersen says that the transition towards climate stability has become critical. On the link between climate change and human health, she said,
We also need to think about the climate change which has further contributed to the pathogens and will do so more if we don’t get a check on the climate change and so the end result is that people and animals with the diseases are closer than ever.
Ms Andersen stressed that now more than ever before in history, it has become imperative that the degradation of the natural world needs to be prevented, halted and reversed.
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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.