According to WHO statistics, as of June 7, 2020, the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) had spread across 216 countries/regions, infected 68 lakh people, and caused about 4 lakh deaths. Seeing these figures, it is beyond any doubt that this crisis is like no other, which apart from putting the whole health system in crisis has also immensely impacted the global economic system and the environment.
Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist of the IMF pointed out that the projected global growth in 2020 is estimated to fall to -3% and the world GDP will face a cumulative loss of around 9 trillion dollars over 2020-2021, leading to the worst recession since the Great Depression. With the Covid-19 painting such a gloomy picture of the global economy, the progress and improvement in the conditions of the environment can be seen as a ray of hope.
As nations have imposed lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus and restricted the movement of vehicles and people as well as industrial activities, the globe has witnessed a drop in air pollutants.
Compared to April 2019, levels of air pollution in New York dropped at almost 50% in April 2020. Similarly, in China, studies have shown that concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), nitrogen oxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) in the air have registered a year-on-year decline, indicating that the air quality in China is improving gradually. Also, images from the European Space Agency‘s Copernicus satellite show a significant drop in nitrogen oxide levels in Italy’s air since a nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 9,2020. India too witnessed significant improvement in the air quality index (AQI) of its major industrial cities during the lockdown period.
Beside the quality of air, lockdown and restrictive measures have also improved water quality, as one can see from the pictures of clear water in the canals of Venice. They have reduced environmental noise, and notably changed – improved – the appearance of many beaches around the world.
Amid the fear and apprehensions around the pandemic, these positive outcomes are surely a sigh of relief. However, the recent report ‘‘Indian wildlife amidst the COVID-19 crisis: An analysis of poaching and illegal wildlife trade’ by TRAFFIC, an NGO working on wildlife trade, has again reminded us of the stark reality we are in.
Highlighting the negative impact of lockdown on wildlife and its conservation, the report points out that despite the Central Government classifying forest and wildlife protection as ‘essential activities’ and the Forest department maintaining extra vigilance, routine patrolling, and cyber monitoring for wildlife crime, India has witnessed a significant increase in overall poaching of wild animals during lockdown.
This increasing threats to wild animals’ population during current situation of lockdown is not particular to India; reports from different parts of the world, from Africa to Russian Far East and from the Americas to South East Asia, demonstrate the same thing
There are quite a few reasons behind this sudden surge in wildlife killings. Diversion of authorities and resources to Covid-19-related duties has somewhat eased conditions for poaching. The lockdown has shut down the tourism industry and resulted in a lack of tourists who inadvertently act as ‘guardians’ as they are a major source of funding for wildlife conservation in many countries. Lockdown has also led to closure of many businesses, resulting in loss of income and livelihood and increase in unemployment and leaving the majority with no option but to exploit nature for selfish gains.
As conservationists and environmentalists ponder over a solution to curb the recent surge in poaching, one must note how quickly people have forgotten the important lesson that COVID-19 has taught us about our dysfunctional relationship with nature.
According to Marie Quinney, a specialist from World Economic Forum, ‘the current economic system has put great pressure on the natural environment, and the unfolding pandemic has shone a light on the domino effect that is triggered when one element in this interconnected system is destabilized.’ Quinney also pointed out that over the last 50 years we have lost 60% of all wildlife which has been coincided with the sharp increase in number of infectious diseases.
Exploitation and overuse of nature has led humankind to face such severe consequences. Globally, an estimated 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million human deaths are caused by zoonoses. Over 70 percent of human diseases originate in animals. Some of the most devastating epidemics such as Black Death, Rabies, Ebola and the recent SARS-CoV-2 have all originated from animals.
This pandemic clearly demonstrates that humans are responsible for most of the woes to the earth. A restriction to human activities has proven to be a blessing for nature. However, seeing the increase in the number of poaching incidences during lockdown, it is clear that we have learned nothing. This exploitative attitude of ours will only lead us to destruction as International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) says, ‘There is no risk-free trade in wildlife, whether for food, traditional medicine, clothing or ornaments. Potentially fatal viruses are in the wild now, and with the right conditions, will transmit to humans again.’
With the world still facing the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is high time that we rethink and reform our relationship with nature. As the WWF says – ‘We are the first generation to know we are destroying the world and maybe the last that can do anything about it’.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.