Humans need to reset their outlook on nature - GulfToday

Humans need to reset their outlook on nature

India Covid-19

With the deadly new coronavirus now present in 100 countries, companies are unable to match demand for masks. Reuters

Over 60 environmental thinkers, campaigners, activists, journalists and academics from across India jointly released the 2021 State of India’s Environment report online. The SOE 2021 is the annual publication of the Down To Earth (DTE) magazine.

As DTE points out, since March 2020, the virus has been pervasive, impacting every aspect of our existence. A year has passed by. In reckoning, 2021 is going to be a year of importance.  The pandemic is a default template for every assessment; such has been its impact on our lives. This is the context to the SOE report.

As Sunita Narain, DTE editor, writes in her opening appraisal of the year just passed by, “The crisis has no precedent. But it is a result of our progressively worsening dystopian relationship with nature.”

What the 2021 annual says rings several warning bells!

• The world is going to face a pandemic like the current one more frequently. We know just 0.1%of potential zoonoses. In other words, the world remains ignorant of 99.9% of potential zoonotic viruses.

• The adult generation of 2040 would be stunted, with a lower human capital.

• A crisis’s impacts trickle faster to the poor. It is estimated that 12,000 more people would die every day due to hunger extended by the pandemic.

• India is all set to usher in a ‘pandemic generation’: 375 million children (from newborn to 14-year-olds) may suffer long-lasting impacts, ranging from being underweight, stunting and increased child mortality, to losses in education and work productivity. The pandemic also has its hidden victims — over 500 million children forced out of school globally. India accounts for more than 50% of them.

• India’s air, water and land have become more polluted between 2009 and 2018. Of 88 major industrial clusters in the country, data clearly indicates a lack of action over the years to control and reduce pollution even in areas which were already identified as ‘critically’ or ‘severely’ polluted.

• India ranks 117 among 192 nations in terms of sustainable development – it is now behind all South Asian nations except Pakistan.

• With respect to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, the five best performing states in India are Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana. Going by the same parameter, the five worst performing states have been Bihar, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh.

• 67 million Indians died due to air pollution in 2019. The economic cost was over $36,000 million, equivalent to 1.36% of India’s GDP.

• India desperately needs a vehicle scrappage policy. By 2025, we will have over 20 million vehicles nearing the end of their lives. These will add to the pollution and environmental damage.

• Drinking water to all households of rural India –11 past deadlines have been missed. The Jal Jeevan Mission’s target to provide drinking water to all rural households by 2024 will need focus on making the water source sustainable; recharge of groundwater and rainwater harvesting will be critical. In all the gloom, there is one good news: since 2014-15, an average 34% of available funds have been spent on water-related works, leading to creation of almost 11 million assets in half a million villages.

• India’s rivers did not see any significant improvement in their water quality during the lockdown. Of India’s 19 major rivers, five – including Ganga – ran dirtier in the COVID-19 period.

• 438 plant species (of which 95% are flowering plants, including food crops) and 889 vertebrates and invertebrates are threatened.

• Environmental crime cases are piling up, and disposal is slow. 34,671 crimes were registered in 2019, and 49,877 cases are pending trial. To clear the backlog in a year, courts need to dispose of 137 cases a day.

• Has India’s forest cover really grown by 5188 square km since 2017, as claimed?

• India has added 714 more tigers, but the area occupied by tigers has shrunk by over 17,000 square km (in the last four years).

• Forestland diversion continues unabated. Over11,000 hectares were diverted in 22 states in 2019.

Taking note of the Sixth Mass Extinction (Holocene extinction), the report says, “Before an extinction phase sets in, there are two signs: Loss in population and shrinking distribution areas. These two signs are evident among all species currently.”

The “clean air and blue sky” during the countrywide lockdown showed our abuse of the nature. But as the SOE 2021 says, “this remained just a blip. It was probably the nature’s way of reminding us how it could be without the human-induced pollution”.

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