Climate change and lurking health crises

PP Sangal | Updated on October 08, 2020 Published on October 08, 2020

Don’t take nature for granted   -  Reuters

Lessons from the Covid fight and several research have highlighted the dangers of treating nature in a cavalier manner

Both Covid-19 and climate change are serious problems, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guteress asserted at the launch of World Meteorological Organization’s ‘State of the Global Climate Report 2019’ in New York recently. He further said that we cannot overlook climate change (or global warming) in the fight against Covid-19. This statement is significant because there is a link, though somewhat intricate, between the two.

It may also be added that climate change, in turn, is impinging on the ‘peace and security’ of the world. For establishing the link between climate and Covid-19, two important measures advocated by medical experts to fight the pandemic need to be considered.

One, there is a need for maintaining social distancing, observing lockdowns, and wearing masks properly. This also means mostly remaining at home, promoting online work culture, and cutting back on organising/attending social/religious functions. There has, however, been some relaxations in the lockdown restrictions with a view to rejuvenating the economy.

To combat the Covid pandemic, the biggest challenge is the huge population size in many countries, especially India. Environment scientists have been stressing on stabilisation of population for decades to mitigate climate change. Now, with Covid-19, we are realising its importance since lower the population density, easier it is to enforce social distancing.

Population density

India’s population density of 455 persons per sq. km, which is next only to Bangladesh’s, is way above China’s 145 persons/sq. km, according to the World Bank. States like Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh have densities exceeding 1,000/sq. km. This is the situation in several countries. How is social distancing possible in this situation?

Another important aspect that needs to be noted is the desire for a lavish and consumption-driven lifestyle. This, coupled with a high population, leads to the need for more houses, more industrial/commercial establishments, various kinds of transportation systems, widespread road network, more educational institutions, entertainment facilities, agricultural land to feed people, etc.

All this translates into a huge requirement of land and space which, in turn, has forced us to destroy forests and wildlife, disturbing thereby the entire ecological balance. Because of the change in land-use pattern, the soil in many areas has become largely degraded. Environment scientist/researchers have been saying for decades that this is responsible for production of greenhouse gases (GHGs) inducing climate change with its disastrous impacts that we are already experiencing in many parts of the world in the form of cyclones, floods, droughts, and high global temperatures, which are responsible for glaciers melting and raising sea levels and forest fires. Aren’t all these not threatening world peace and security?

Further, medical science research has shown that melting glaciers release various unknown viruses (trapped there-in) into the ecosystem. Also, the destruction of natural habitats is exposing us to new viruses for which we have no immunity.

This may have given rise to many deadly diseases like H1N1, MERS, SARS, AIDS/ HIV, cancer, Ebola, and now Covid-19. Alas, world leaders and the rich have not paid heed to these threats and are now, along with poor countries, suffering from the impact of Covid-19.

Also, in the fight against Covid, people have been asked to resort to frequent hand-washing with soap and observe good hygiene. This is a difficult task, especially for the poor. In India, some 160 million people do not have access to clean water, according to the 2017 report of the World Bank, and 600 million face acute water shortage.

Globally, 650 million do not have access to clean water and, according to UN-Water, three billion have no running water and soap in their homes. So, frequent hand-washing is not possible in large parts of the world, greatly undermining the effectiveness of this measure in combating Covid. The theme of ‘World Water Day’ this year, which was observed on March 22, is ‘Water and Climate Change’ as there is a strong linkage between water crisis and climate change.

Amidst the occurrence of climate disasters and now Covid-19, the world should re-think its development objectives and their complex relationship with nature. We should not let the world plunge into a deeper peace and security crisis by taking a business-as-usual approach. In fact, ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook-5’, released recently, highlights this aspect and is very timely.

The writer is a former Director of CSO, and UN Consultant

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Published on October 08, 2020
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