The COVID-19 pandemic is one of its kind global health calamity of the century and one of the biggest challenges the humankind faced since World War II. The outbreak and its mode of transmission are believed to have passed from animals to humans. Recently, the zoonotic diseases are on the rise, as the world continues to see unprecedented destruction of wild habitats and pollution by human activities. UN’s Environment Chief, Inger Andersen, showed her concern saying “Nature is sending us a message with the Coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis”.
Environment During COVID-19
Started in China, then slowly the Coronavirus advanced in almost all the countries of the world. The environment during COVID-19 pandemic can be distinguished in two different natures; the environment at the initial stage of COVID and environment after severe global human lockdown. Let’s discuss it in detail to understand the difference.
The world was on its full swing when COVID-19 hit hard. Life was enjoyable, the economy was at its healthiest best, although the environment continued to be affected, and the signs of global warming were quite prominent all over the world. Few initiatives were being taken, but that was not even slightest enough, and without being much worried, we were engrossed in our own small ‘world’.
Nuclear power plants, an increasing number of flights, millions of vehicles on roads each day destroyed the air quality. Urbanization and a mounting number of food production and other consumer goods factories took a toll on remaining greenery. Unscientific garbage disposals, human activities and industrial wastes created havoc on Earth’s water resources.The first official case of Coronavirus was registered in December 2019, and within three months the world was trembling with fear realizing its impact on humans due to its highly contagious nature. Slowly countries started strict lockdown. People are advised to stay indoors for safety, factories get shut down or at least decrease production, offices take ‘work from home’ method to continue the business, flights are being cancelled, and the aviation industry buckles its business. People are requested to eat healthy and home-cooked foods, maintain social distancing and so on. Interestingly, the process of controlling the spread of Covid-19 and trying to reduce the death toll led to some unexpected consequences. There are a number of news and reports all over the world that proved the air and water quality are restoring after a long span, the ozone layer is healing, wildlife is coming back, and even some rare species are showing their presence.
Air Quality During COVID-19
As industries, transport networks and businesses have closed down; it has brought a sudden drop in carbon emissions. Compared to last year, levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50% because of the measures taken to contain the virus. In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use dropped by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019.
There are some other interesting facts, as well. According to a research, led by Xiao Wu and Rachel Nethery at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, even small increases in fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, can have a massive effect. In the U.S. an increase of just one microgram per cubic metre corresponded to a 15% increase in Covid-19 deaths.
Italy’s northern provinces of Lombardy and Emilia Romagna also found a correlation between Covid-19 mortality rates and high levels of pollution. Lombardy experienced vast majority of the country’s deaths, of 13,325 out of Italy’s 26,644 till 26th April. Emilia Romagna, on the other hand, witnessed the greatest death toll, at 3,386. A study of air quality hints low air quality is one of the reasons for these areas to become the hotspots.
Environment and Water Resources
Italy faced the most extensive travel restrictions since World War II. But as a result, in Venice, the water in the canals cleared and it experiences better water flow and visibility of fish and dolphins after many years. The Venice mayor’s office explained that the increase in water clarity was due to the settling of sediment that is disturbed by boat traffic and mentioned the decrease in air pollution along the waterways.
Christopher Jones, lead developer of the CoolClimate Network, and an applied research consortium at the University of California, Berkeley, said that “We can help prevent crises in the future if we are prepared. I think there are some big-picture lessons here that could be very useful.”
Ganga, the holy river of India is the significant source of water for the northern part of the country is well known for its pollution. The water of Ganga showed substantial improvement in its water quality of more than 40% since March after the state went for a stringent lockdown. The pandemic has benefited the natural resources. The endangered Ganges River Dolphin was seen frolicking in the now-pollution-free Ganges in Meerut. The water quality the Yamuna has improved.
In Chennai, Perumbakkam lake witnessing ducks after a long time, on emerald green wetlands at the Thirumazhisai Satellite Township
Tackling Environmental Crisis
In 2008-09, after the global financial meltdown, carbon emissions shot up by 5% as a result of stimulus spending that boosted the use of fossil fuel. World environmentalists are concerned with something similar to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic caused economic damage. Once everything fits in their right places and the pandemic situation will come to a halt, all the countries will increase the economic activities to restore the loss. This may lead to another serious condition such as the financial crisis of 2008-09.
With COVID-19 pandemic continuing to spread, national and local governments are urged to treat waste management, including medical, household and other hazardous waste, as an urgent and essential public service in order to minimize possible secondary impacts upon health and the environment.
The Silver Lining of the Post Pandemic World
Interestingly the global lockdown has some positive impacts as well. Maybe it has given us sometime to mellow down the ‘madness’ of consumerism, and after a long time, we are returning to the basics of survival. Home-cooked food, natural medicine sources from plants, the work-from-home culture, ban on tourism will support the Earth to restore itself faster and will help us to retrospect on our habits and lifestyle. Research shows biodegradable waste is increasing while plastic pollution is decreasing, thanks to our sudden change in food habit. A number of countries are working more seriously to find renewable energy sources as coal and petroleum exchange have taken a backseat. Fewer cars on the road, fewer flights on sky finally working in favor of mother nature.
Some Final Thoughts…..
We all wanted to stop the rapid climate change; we organized global meetings and awareness-raising campaigns. Though it feels, maybe we lacked genuine concern. We have been so engrossed into personal comfort, financial gain and luxury, that the ‘true concern’ for the environment became more of a ‘fashionable term’, as it feels good to say I am concerned about nature. But, did we really care?
Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic raised questions on our eagerness to save the world. It is like humans have forgotten that they are part of nature too. Destroying it is suicidal, and Coronavirus is one strong argument in favor of that.
It is high time we take the responsibility of Earth’s greenery, wildlife, air and water preservation more seriously to prevent witnessing anything more catastrophic than COVID-19 in the future.