TODAY -

Environmental impacts of COVID-19 pandemic

Shoraisham Sunandro Singh *



Pandemic are not new to humans. Throughout the human civilizations, pandemics kept knocking our doors on several occasions. From the Spanish flu of 1918 to the emergence of HIV/AIDS in 1970s or SARS of 2003, they keep testing our zeal and perseverance.

On all of these occasions humans always fight back and come on the top. However, it has never been this difficult and lives changing like the current covid19 pandemic. It has put the whole world on standstill and makes our life miserable.

At this age of Globalization and much faster mode of transport and communication, the situation becomes much worst and handling the virus proves more difficult. Even though the fatality rate is much lower than the previous pandemic, the virus is still deadly and contract much faster.

Pandemic induced lockdown are common scenarios for most of the affected countries and cities. People are advised to stay indoors, wear mask and maintain social distancing, unless for emergency purposes, to contain the virus. This greatly reduces human activities and has several impacts on environment as well.

Lockdown imposed across the Globe have halted economic activities. This results in the reduction of air pollution mainly due to the decrease in consumption of fossil fuels and coal based power generations. European Energy Agency(EEA) estimates the reduction in nitrogen dioxide(NO2) emissions across Europe by around 30-60% from pre lockdown levels.

It is the same in case of Delhi where NO2 and PM2.5 levels reduced by almost 70%, according to the Central Pollution Control Board(CPCB). Reduction in generation ofcoal based power also significantly brought down the emission of Sulphur Dioxide(SO2) and other Green House Gas (GHGs).

Water pollution in the rivers like the Yamuna and the Ganga were all time high in before the pandemic. However, it drastically reduced due to the decline in the discharge of industrial effluents and sewage in the rivers. Central Water Commission(CWC) reported that 27 of the 36 real time water monitoring stations in the Ganga river met the permissible limit of Biochemical Oxygen Demand(BOD), Dissolve Oxygen(DO), etc. during the pandemic. It had been the scenarios for all the major polluted rivers across the globe.

The decrease in the human activities also reduces the noise generated by automobiles and big industrial houses in the cities and towns. Noise level in the residential areas of Delhi( by CPCB) is claimed to be reduced to 55dB(daytime) and 40-30(night time). Noise generated by Aviation sector is also greatly reduced around the Globe.

Ever since the start of Globalization and overall improvement in the world economic conditions, tourism has been growing rapidly. Tourists spots spring up rapidly to the ecologically sensitive areas like Beaches, National Parks, Hill stations, etc. Furthermore, with the boom in IT sector, the tourism industry is greatly maximized and intensified their presence to ecology and environment of tourist spots.

However, these developments have been reversed by the pandemic and give an opportunity for the nature to reclaim its lost biodiversity. The pandemic brought respite to the ailing environment in the much needed hours. It opened the eyes of various politicians and the critiques who question the work of environmentalists and their credibility.

Having said that, pandemic is a double edged sword which also introduces new challenges to the environment. Since the outbreak of virus, there has been an exponential growth in the demand of one time use biomedical equipment and gears and hand gloves, face shield, masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), syringes,etc.

The South China Morning Post has estimated the biomedical waste generation in Wuhan ( the epicentre of the pandemic) at 240 tonnes per day, a sharp increase from 40 tonnes per day before pandemic. Most of these waste generated are left to the dumped sites without appropriate treatments. This increases the risk for many municipal waste collection workers and several rag pickers to contract the virus.

At the same time, it has created lot of pressure to the environment to absorb these chemicals and waste. Apart from this, there has been many disinfection drives in several virus hot spots and cities. The environmental consequences of the chemicals are yet to be seen as these chemicals can break up enter into various trophic levels in the food chain.

Due to high threat perception of the virus, most of the urban households in both developed and developing countries turned towards online shopping and order. This has left a huge pile of municipal solid waste materials to be recycled.

There is also rise in the consumption of the onetime use plastic carry bags due to the possible risk of spreading virus. Eventually, these waste materials enter the ecosystem and end up in our beaches, seas, roadsides, dumpsites, etc. and create various environmental problems.

Coincidentally, there are mixed reports of wildlife entering human habitations, towns, etc. during the pandemic lockdown. However, not all the reports come out true such as the news of the Sika deer wandering the Japanese city of Nara. Similarly, the National Geographic discredits the news of Dolphins and Swans visiting the Venice canals.

These contrasting reports of covid19 effects in wildlife raise doubts about its impacts to the wildlife. However, an indirect threat to the wildlife i.e. reported by the Aljazeera that due to job losses and reduction of wildlife rangers patrolling, poaching activities in several Reserves are increased.

The pandemic has created enough problems for us to introspect the way we approach to our environment. With the world easing the lockdown measures, the stress to the environment is on the rise again. We must keep in mind that the effect of covid19 pandemic to the environment is no less important than the focus of regaining our economic stimulus and normalcy.

While the immediate impact of the virus is more evident, the long term impacts are yet to be deciphered. Therefore, the overall consensus should be that environmental sustainability should not be sidelined while managing the pandemic.


* Shoraisham Sunandro Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express and Imphal Times
The writer is M Sc Environment Management, Forest Research Institute, Dehradun and can be contacted at sshoraisham12(AT)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on February 02 2021.



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