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Time to wake up and stop damage to environment

In the last three to four months, India has been hit by the coronavirus, two severe cyclones (Amphan in the eastern and Nisarga in western India), locust attacks, forest fires, and heat waves. Can it be termed as an act of God or invisible supreme power? The answer is ‘No.’

Scientifically, the origin of each of these disasters is linked to climate change and a faulty implementation of environment and related policies. As per reports, the coronavirus originated in the wet markets of Wuhan in China where animals found in the wild are sold for human consumption, thus affecting the complete food chain in the ecosystem.

Evidence of a strong connection between global warming and emergence of diseases is emerging. Whether it is mosquito-borne diseases in India, extremities of temperatures both during summers and winters, or locust swarms in the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab and Haryana—all of them have been linked to the phenomenon of climate change and unsustainable development.

In modern history, two epidemics, Covid-19 and Spanish flu, have been declared as pandemics. During the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, a quarter of world’s population was infected, a quarter of which subsequently could not survive the onslaught of flu. In the current coronavirus pandemic, 15 million people have been infected so far, of whom over six lakh have died.

The Spanish flu pandemic coincided with World War I. At that time, perhaps due to the censorship and loss of life due to the war itself, the pandemic could not lead to meaningful policy changes.

However, the current pandemic separated from the last by 100 years has manifested itself in broad daylight. This global crisis has far-reaching implications on economies across the globe, including India. As per the International Monetary Fund estimates, the Indian economy will shrink by 4.5 per cent.

It is a big setback for India, which has been witnessing 5+ per cent a growth rate. So what are the options for India?

There have been Nipah, Zika, Ebola, Japanese encephalitis, swine flu (H1N1), Hepatitis B, Dengue, and AIDS outbreaks, which affected different parts of the world, including India from time to time but on a smaller scale. And another such outbreak can happen tomorrow yet again. This seems to be a cycle.

In the long term, global warming will result in serious economic consequences. It has been estimated that reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases (GHGs) provide health benefits of 1.4 to 2.5 times the cost of action.

It was the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984 that prompted the government to enact the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) norms were formulated to regulate activities that access, utilize and affect (pollute) natural resources. The recent Vishakhapatnam gas leak forces us to ponder over a critical question: have we learned the right lesson from the Bhopal gas tragedy or is it a business as usual?

(<em>The author is a Research Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed in this article are personal</em>).