We humans are dependent on environment for our survival yet we have become careless and ignorant towards our actions. We have been so busy in achieving our dreams of luxury and success that forgot our duties towards Mother Earth- in preserving nature, its resources and ensuring sustainable development. However, when Covid-19 hit the countries across globe, had its impact not only on socio-economic aspect but also on environment as well.
The atmosphere before Covid-19 pandemic was known to all with unclear sky to polluted and toxic air to breathe, rising temperature and unpredictable weather. The repercussions of human act have led to increasing carbon foot printing, rise in amount of greenhouse gases, plastic wastage across world etc. The mother earth has been facing such unkind acts of human leading to its suffocation and resulting in climate change, extinction of various species, depletion of resources, losing biodiversity, melting of glaciers and rising sea levels.
In fight against the coronavirus, national lock down has been declared by countries across world. Due to which People and Government have been witnessing immense change in environment in short span of time. The nature is healing itself without any actions, strategies, plans or huge funded projects. The depleting ozone layer- which shields the earth from most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and is a major cause of skin cancer‑ has been healing on its own which is one of the positive effects of the lock down. Decline in nitrous oxide emission due to closed transport services and industries. With less human interference, rivers around the world have shown remarkable improvements in water quality as reported from Malaysia, Italy, Singapore, China and India. The water in Venice has become clear that the fish could be seen. Apart from that animals are spotted roaming freely on the streets of lock down cities. Sea turtles have been spotted returning to areas to lay their eggs which they once avoided due to human intrusion. To quote an example nests of Leatherback Turtles in Florida being significantly higher than last year.
India also observed major improvements in environment due to national lock down starting from March 25th. Delhi was one of the top polluted cities in the world as ranked by WHO in 2014. According to Air Quality Index (AQI), the usual air quality of India’s capital was 200 and pollution at its peak has soared this level to 900 and even beyond. This was way above unsafe level as deemed by World Health Organization. Since lock down when Delhi’s 11 million registered cars, factories and construction were put to halt, the AQI level has fallen upto 20, resulting in clear blue skies and starry nights over Delhi, the sighting of sparrows in the city and the breathable fresh air.
Critically endangered, Ganges Dolphins have been spotted back at various Ganga Ghats of Kolkata after 30 years due to the reduced pollution in water. As a result of the lock down imposed, massive increases in the numbers of flamingos (tens of thousands) have gathered in the city of Navi Mumbai this year as reported by residents, while Olive Ridley Sea Turtles have been returning to hatch in India. Further, the stoppage of industrial waste into the river water bodies has brought a momentous change in the water quality of Ganga river. The water from Har-ki-Pauri in Haridwar was tested by Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board Water and the results reveal that for the first time in decades the water is fit for drinking. Majestic sighting of Himalayan range from Saharanpur and Jalandhar. There are numerous other examples that have shown the recovery of the nature due to less human invasion.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Govt. of India addressing the issue of environment in urban cities with respect to increasing urban population in India from 17% in 1951 to 31% in 2011 and is estimated to reach 55% by 2050. The ever so increasing urbanization specially in metro cities has no doubt situate a lot of pressure on the green cover of the city which is expected to grow. Thus, the Government aimed to increase green cover via creating “Urban Forests” by utilizing forest land lying vacant or degraded in various cities across the country. MoEFCC is not limiting the plan to smart cities, the official said; it is also planning to execute a similar strategy across other cities.
Under the leadership of Hon’ble PM Shri Narendra Modi, various initiatives were taken for the conservation of environment. The Union Environment Minister, Shri Prakash Javadekar on the occasion of World Environment Day i.e. 5th June 2020, announced implementation of 200 ‘Nagar Van’ across the country in next five years. The scheme will also focus on people’s participation; collaboration between Forest Department, Municipal bodies, NGOs, Corporates and local citizens. He quoted that “Urban Forest will revive the age old tradition of village forest in cities and will work as lungs of the cities” (An article published by PIB Delhi). The ‘Green Skill Development Programme’ (GSDP) was launched in 2017 to develop skills among youth in environment sector. A mobile app for GSDP was also launched in May 2018. During the launch Minister for Environment, stated that about five lakh people will be employed through GSDP by 2021 and 5 Lakh 60 thousand people to be imparted training between 2018-19 and 2020-21.
The ‘Namami Gange Programme was approved by the union government in 2014, recognizing the cultural and environmental importance of river Ganga. The central government allocated Rs. 20,000 crores for the conservation of river. The program is implemented at National and State level along with 63 sewer management projects in Uttarakhand, U.P, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The program involved various stakeholders such as people living on river banks, helping them to attain sustainable livelihood to have an impact. Also engaging grass root level institutions- local bodies & Panchayati raj institutions, mobilizing them to work with same zeal towards rejuvenation of the river.
One of the most popular and highly promoted nation-wide campaign of Government was ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ (Clean India Mission) launched in 2014. This Abhiyan has turned into a National Mass Movement evoking a sense of responsibility among the people while being active participants in cleanliness drive across the nation. The Prime Minister gave the mantra of ‘ना गन्दगी करेंगे, ना करने देंगे (people should neither litter, nor let others litter). National Air Quality Index was launched in October, 2014 to monitor the quality of air on real-time basis in major urban cities of India. Moreover, to tackle the increasing air pollution problem across the country, National Clean Air Program (NCAP) was articulated by government as a national level strategy with tentative cost of Rs. 637 Crore. The National Mission for a Green India (GIM), aims at protecting and improving India’s forest cover. An amount of Rs. 7,009.09 lakh were sanctioned under GIM in FY 2015-16 to the States of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Karnataka, Manipur, Kerala, Punjab and Uttarakhand for carrying out preparatory work.
These moves are significant as environmentalist not just in India but around the world are concerned and fighting to urge Governments and people as well to be sensitive towards environment.
As coronavirus pandemic had the world at standstill and forced the world indoors, the resurgence of nature and environment is palpable. This is the time we all should realize, introspect and view the environment in a different light. This has struck an awakening amongst us to ponder upon how much this nature, environment and earth really important and matters to us for our everyday living.
The Governments across the world needs to plan and strategize to uptake this chance amidst crisis of Covid-19 to focus on environment as well and to turn this prospect into a beautiful positive outcome for continued healing of nature and decrease in degrading environmental activities.
Few days back as we celebrate World Environment Day across globe, let’s resurface and use this lock down period as an opportunity for combating environmental issues. The noticeable improvements in nature and self-healing process of earth has shown us that all it requires is to recheck our actions and to have positive impacts starting at individual level to National or Country level and finally at Global level for recovery of mother nature and Earth’s sustainability.
(The Writer is CEO, Indian Social Responsibility Network (ISRN) & Member, Expert Appraisal Committee (Non-Coal Mining), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India)