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Restoring ecosystem and recovering from Covid-19, too

The health of the planet and the health of people are like two sides of the same coin. Degradation increases human-wildlife conflicts and has been linked to outbreaks of animal borne diseases such as Covid-19, according to a new report, ‘#GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem Restoration for People, Nature and Climate’, launched ahead of this year’s World Environment Day 2021 (June 5) by the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). 

“Global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have suffered an average two-thirds decline in less than half a century due in large part to the very same environmental destruction, which is contributing to the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19,” notes an earlier report, ‘Living Planet Report 2020’, brought out by WWF or World Wide Fund for Nature, an international NGO.

A zoonotic disease is an infection caused by an agent like virus or a bacterium that spreads from an animal to a human. About 60% of infections and 75% of emerging infections are zoonotic diseases.  An often quoted example is the spread of bat-linked viruses enabled by land-use change and deforestation.  Bat-borne viruses are suspected to have led to viral outbreaks like Hendra, Nipah, Marburg and Ebola virus diseases, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Changes in wildlife and their habitat lead to development of a new kind of environment, helping some pathogens, vectors and/or hosts to become more dominant, which enables spread of most zoonotic infections. 

Ecosystem changes are caused by factors like overexploitation of natural environment, destruction of habitats, invasive alien species, extinction of species etc.  Continued degradation of ecosystems worldwide is affecting about 40% of the global population or 3.2 billion people, who are losing access to fertile land or not getting safe drinking water, according to UNEP.

In this context, it is important that the theme of World Environment Day 2021 this year is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ with focus on a campaign to ‘Reimagine. Recreate. Restore’. Ecosystem restoration is about recovering degraded or destroyed ecosystems and also conserving healthy ecosystems. “Just as we caused the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the pollution crisis, we can reverse the damage that we’ve done; we can be the first generation to reimagine, to recreate and to restore nature to kickstart action for a better world,” notes a message by Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UNEP.

Pakistan is hosting this year’s World Environment Day. The country has already launched restoration initiatives like Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project.  World Environment Day 2021 will also coincide with the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). Year 2030 is also the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a set of 17 interconnected goals set to make this world a better place for all. India lags. 

The themes for World Environment Day 2021 and UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration are on the same lines as this year’s Earth Day’s theme of ‘Restore Our Earth’ observed on April 22. Action on the ground on these lines has started long back. For example, the Bonn Challenge launched by the Government of Germany and the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN in 2011 has set a target of restoring over 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems by 2030. 

Under the Bonn Challenge, India too has pledged to restore 26 million hectares of land by 2030. Odisha’s Chilka lake restoration and Andhra Pradesh’s zero-budget natural farming initiatives, amongst others, have already come in for praise in the ‘#GenerationRestoration’ report.

Globally, according to UNEP, the 350-million-hectare restoration initiative is expected to create ecosystem services worth $9 trillion and reduce 13-26 gigatons of atmospheric GHGs by 2030. The economic returns are estimated to be nine times of the investment cost. Inaction costs more and is estimated at least three times more than the cost of ecosystem restoration.

Adds the ‘#GenerationRestoration’ report: “Restoring green and blue spaces can … make a significant contribution to human well-being. The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the need for a holistic approach to the human and ecosystem health crisis.” Since restoring ecosystem also reduces the chances of spread of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19, it is a win-win situation for people and the planet. 



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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