COVID-19, also known as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the most serious global crisis today. The UN Secretary-General – Antonio Guterres – has termed it as a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations – one that is spreading human suffering, infecting the global economy and upending people’s lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic and “a public health emergency of international concern”. The rapid spread of the pandemic across the nations and societies has adversely affected the economic, social and health infrastructure with repercussions on life and livelihoods of millions at an unprecedented scale. According to the Asian Development Bank, COVID-19 can lead to losses for the Indian economy alone between US$ 387 million and US$ 29.9 billion in personal consumption losses.
The crisis has come at such a time when the world was preparing itself to accelerate action on the climate crisis and fast track the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The world was also set to launch the new agenda for halting the rapid loss of biodiversity and the new framework for Education for Sustainable Development – ESD 2030. However, with the shift of focus on the corona crisis, addressing all other pressing global issues have now been put on hold for an uncertain period, which may be for a few months to more than a year. In this scenario, we need to analyse and look beyond the current crisis from the lens of sustainability and the future we all want to have.
The world is paying a huge economic and health cost due to the corona crisis. However, the crisis has its root in the utter disregard and negligence of humans towards environmental sustainability concerns. Emergences of corona-like diseases are linked to the over-exploitation of nature and its resources as well as over-consumption coupled with the loss of biodiversity, forest destruction and degradation
Root Causes: The Connection to Wild Life
The world is paying a huge economic and health cost due to the corona crisis. However, the crisis has its root in the utter disregard and negligence of humans towards environmental sustainability concerns. Emergences of corona-like diseases are linked to the over-exploitation of nature and its resources as well as over-consumption coupled with the loss of biodiversity, forest destruction and degradation. The rapid ecological degradation, habitat loss, deterioration of ecological systems, loss of species and ecosystems bring wild animals into closer contact with humans and domesticated animals resulting in an infectious disease called zoonosis. Wild animals in their natural habitat harbour a vast pool of dangerous viruses and other pathogens which remain harmless till they come in contact with humans or domesticated animals.
COVID-19 is believed to have originated in Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, spreading the contagion like wildfire, first in China and then across the nations, in a globalised and interconnected world. According to estimates, around 6.3 million people are directly engaged in wild animal farming in China with a total value of $18 billion. The Chinese Government on February 24, 2020, prohibited the consumption of terrestrial wildlife to protect public health. However, experts feel that the ban alone is not enough to effectively protect public health from wildlife-associated diseases; rather it requires the implementation of a more comprehensive and sustainable production and consumption approach. Many traditional Chinese medicines are made from wildlife products, such as pangolin scales, snake bile, and bat faeces which is not banned by legislation. The poaching, storage and transportation of wildlife for medicinal purposes, pose a risk of transmitting such diseases. The current pandemic should force the Chinese government and the UN to come out with a comprehensive and permanent ban on all such practices related to wildlife to prevent future public health risks.
The Need to Treat Industrial Waste
The COVID-19 crisis and the unprecedented lockdown in India and many other countries have some silver lining too. The air quality in many cities across the globe has significantly improved with clearer skies and cleaner air to breathe. Since industrial wastes have stopped flowing into the rivers, there has been a significant drop in pollution in them as well. Some experts also believe that the present crisis could trigger the biggest fall in carbon emissions since World War II.
However, to avoid a new surge in pollution and emissions when economic activities resume, we need to learn the right lessons of living sustainably with nature and the planet. The problem has also taught a hard lesson to the global community that economic development activities can be put to a halt to save precious lives. This pandemic need not pause our thinking on other equally pressing crises such as climate, pollution, biodiversity loss and population explosion. Governments around the world are in the process of providing economic stimulus packages in response to COVID-19 to rebuild economies and livelihoods. These should be used for simultaneous coordinated action to address the root ecological causes of the crisis and find out new and innovative ways to better tackle global environment and sustainability challenges to restore and rebuild the lost ecological systems and natures assets upon which we all depend for our survival. There is an urgent need to treat industrial waste as well as improve the air quality by limiting cars on the road. Other measures such as regulating stubble burning, emphasis on public transport-sharing system and practising sustainable construction techniques will go a long way in protecting air quality.
We will be able to win the battle over COVID-19 with the advent of effective medicines, mass antibody tests and vaccines in the days to come. However, there is a need to bring about changes in the ways we live and go about our day-to-day business
Changes in a Working Lifestyle
We will be able to win the battle over COVID-19 with the advent of effective medicines, mass antibody tests and vaccines in the days to come. However, there is a need to bring about changes in the ways we live and go about our day-to-day business. Work from home experiences from across the globe has brought new and innovative ways to connect with people in offices, schools, universities and other work centres. Virtual communities formed during the epidemic have enabled people to come together in a more meaningful way, although remotely. These should be used to post the crisis to promote creativity and innovation, thus building new sustainable enterprises and social systems. It has also underscored the need for greater collaboration and sharing best business practices across the globe.
The role of lifelong learning has assumed paramount importance for the workforce to gear for changing job roles in the wake of an uncertain future ahead. The crisis has made us rethink about age-old traditional knowledge and practices specifically the experiences and understanding of the natural world, lifestyle choices, herbals, yoga, Ayurveda, etc., for creating immunity and building resilience for better health and well-being. The ongoing liquidity crunch in most sectors will prompt several organisations to adopt judicious planning of financial resources and put in place a comprehensive crisis management plan to tackle such exigencies in future.
Going forward, sustainability and an emphasis towards a ‘greener’ future should be at the core of every decision-making.
“If governments put health, natural regeneration and climate action at the core of every decision they make in recovering from this pandemic, we can emerge as a stronger and more resilient society, and on track to a safer climate future.”
– Former UN Climate Chief – Christiana Figueres
Dr Ram Boojh is the CEO, Mobius Foundation. With his rich and diverse professional experience of working with the United Nations, Government, academic and development organizations, he will surely bring forward new dimension and vision to the environment and sustainability programme of the Foundation.
Dr Boojh has made an outstanding contribution in the field of ecology, biodiversity, climate change, environmental education and education for sustainable development for over three decades in India and abroad. He served the UNESCO South Asia Cluster Office in New Delhi and was Secretary to the South & Central Asia MAB Network (SACAM) for more than a decade. He has worked as Regional Director of the Centre for Environment Education and Assistant Director of the Environment Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh. He is associated with many national and international organizations and associations related to environment and sustainable development.