Nature is recharging its Batteries

1st Jan 2020, marked the beginning of a fresh decade. A decade that many looked forward to with great enthusiasm and optimism. It came with its fair share of promises in terms of opportunities for growth, both on a personal and a larger Global front. A country of 1.3 Billion promising individuals, we looked forward to taking big strides towards plotting India as a Global Superpower. The promises however, didn’t last long as markets came crashing down, thousands lost their lives and the global economy witnessed huge disruptions. If you told me at the beginning of the year that 2020 would go down in the annals of history as one of the worst years in recent times , I would scoff at you for being a pessimist. But a little over 5 months into the year, I’m left wondering if it could get any worse.2020 will definitely go down as a significant chapter in World history. But it remains to be seen if the lessons learnt are remembered. 

Forest Fires, Riots, Earthquakes, Cyclones, a poisonous gas leak ? This Year has seen it all. A year in which we woke up to a virus sweeping across the globe, infecting millions in its wake.  The coronavirus pandemic has brought chaos to lives and economies around the world. Life as we know it has come to a grinding halt since the pandemic. As nations across the world struggle to effectively  respond to the rapidly spreading virus, it lays bare an oft-repeated but disregarded linkage emphasized by scientists: climate change, biodiversity loss, and outbreak of newly-discovered diseases are interconnected. The humanitarian threats we face today – global warming, rise in ocean temperatures, human-wildlife conflict, extreme heat and flood situations – are a direct result of disproportionate human activity. The question about COVID-19 pandemic being a godsend for human beings or not cannot be answered, but it would seem to be one for the environment. The current crisis has switched us out of normal existence and into survival mode. As governments implement strict lockdown measures and the human race quarantines itself within four walls, Nature on the other hand seems to be enjoying a mini vacation of its own. 

The UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen recently said and I shall quote, “Nature is sending us a message with the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis”, according to Andersen humanity was placing too many pressures on the natural world with damaging consequences, and warned that failing to take care of the planet meant not taking care of ourselves. Humans have been exploiting nature for time immemorial, and though the effectiveness of lockdown measures in containing the spread of the virus remains to be a matter of debate; these norms have definitely had positive influence on climate and the environment.

Pandemic lockdowns have given nature a breather all around the world, bringing animals to unexpected places. Having had to face the brunt of being a major tourist attraction for the past few decades. The elephants in Thailand have finally been set free from tourist labor. Without knowing when the pandemic will finally be over, the Maesa Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai closed its doors to visitors. The camp removed the huge metal and wooden seats that are strapped to the elephants back throughout the day, for good. According to the camp’s director, Anchalee Kalampichit, this is the first time in 44 years that the elephants haven’t worn the carriages in the daytime. “Since we entered the business in 1976, riding on the elephants has always been the favorite activity of tourists. But because the coronavirus has spread, there have been fewer tourists. Eventually, the government ordered us to close, so we have removed the chairs to liberate the elephants,” she said. At other places,wildlife seems to be creeping back. Cougars toured the deserted streets of Santiago, the Chilean capital. Wild boars have strolled through the lanes of Haifa, Israel. Fish catches off Vietnam are teeming again.

With both air and road travel coming to a halt worldwide, along with factories and business shutting down, We are finally witnessing cleaner rivers and breathing in purer air. Carbon emissions have decreased , leading to reduction in particulate matter. Improvements in Air Quality have been substantial. Measurements from the European Space Agency’s show that during late January and early February 2020, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) over cities and industrial areas in Asia and Europe were lower than in the same period in 2019, by as much as 40%.Two weeks after the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 23 in the UK, NO₂ pollution in some cities fell by as much as 60% compared to the same period in 2019. NASA revealed that NO₂ pollution over New York and other major metropolitan areas in north-eastern USA was 30% lower in March 2020, compared to the monthly average from 2015 to 2019. Keep in mind that despite COVID-19 being one of the most dangerous respiratory illnesses seen in recent times,  WHO reports state that about 3 million people die each year from ailments caused by air pollution, that figure is significantly more than the death toll in this pandemic.

Closer to home, people of Delhi are finally living their dream of breathing in fresh, pure air. The average concentration of PM 2.5 and Nitrogen Dioxide in New Delhi came down by 71 per cent this April. Residents of the NCR woke up to clear blue skies this summer, devoid of  SMOG and particulate matter.  Visuals of Cleaner Rivers have emerged from Varanasi and other parts of Uttar Pradesh. Despite the government spending Crores together on cleaning the Ganga and Yamuna, it took a nationwide Lockdown to clear up the rivers. The stoppage of industrial pollutants and chemical waste has definitely had a positive effect on water quality. The Restrictions with regards to religious activity and tourist presence has cut down on the trail of litter that humans invariably leave behind,(thus polluting the environment).

Decrease in human footfall has also led to reduction in seismic noise-the hum of vibrations in the planet’s crust. Just as natural events such as earthquakes cause Earth’s crust to move, so do vibrations caused by moving vehicles and industrial machinery.Geologists say this reduction in seismic noise could allow detectors to spot smaller earthquakes and boost efforts to monitor volcanic activity and other seismic events.

Invariably Covid-19 has delivered unusual environmental benefits: cleaner air, lower carbon emissions, a respite for wildlife. Now the big question is whether we can capitalize on this moment. The Pandemic is a clear warning  given that far more deadly diseases existed in wildlife, and that today’s civilization was “playing with fire”. Public Health Experts as well as Environmentalists believe that it was almost always human behavior that caused diseases to spill over into humans. Almost all major viral epidemics in recent history have originated as a result of infringement of the natural habitat of wildlife, be it the wet markets, illegal wildlife trade or rapid deforestation. These practices have brought humans closer to wildlife than ever before, thus increasing the chances of catching a disease.This is happening only because humans no longer respect the need to give wild animals the space they need. Thus , moving on from the pandemic, the post-COVID era should focus more on preventing disease rather than treating it. Like one of my Professors often said, Medicine is not healthcare. Medicine is merely sick care; “Prevention of Disease “ -that is true healthcare.

Anish Shyadligeri
GOA MEDICAL COLLEGE

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1 Response

  1. Usha Nandini says:

    A healthy world is not the one with most hospitals but the one that doesn’t need hospitals as often. Messing with the equilibrium does get back at us. Well written article.

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