COVID-19: An environmental disaster of massive proportions

Suresh Nautiyal

THERE are numerous theories about the extinction of species like dinosaurs. But, I am of the understanding, as a green activist, that extinction of such species was caused by certain environmental disturbances of colossal proportions due to certain reasons of those times. 

As I understand, the COVID-19 (Corona virus) pandemic is also an environmental disaster having grave social, psychological, economic, and mental and health related consequences and complications. Therefore, we need to look for a solution of it in mitigation rather than in political debates.

Sudden unprecedented changes in climate:

The sudden, frequent and unprecedented changes in weather and climate are not just natural phenomena. They are warning signs of critical ailments. We cannot afford to ignore them. At the same time, we need to know why there is a blunt manifestation of such symptoms. Therefore, we must do something to deal with such behaviour of nature. Not taking action will result in elimination of all life forms on earth, eventually. Thus in the distant future, there will be none to record the irresponsible behaviour of the Homo sapiens. 

Climate emergency and greed:

A section of people, including the so-called world leaders, believe that the activists who think there is a situation of climate emergency are on the wrong side of the reality. A leader like Donald Trump even went to the extent of terming the COVID-19 as a hoax. The specs of greed these leaders are wearing are so thick that they do not want to see through them the melting world due to global warming and climate change. The moot question remains whether they will survive with their greed!

Responsibility of governments – time not to build huge statues:

The fact is that the world is passing through a crisis of colossal dimensions due to COVID-19. The governments around the world are taking necessary measures, though belatedly. In India, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March 2020 announced 21-day countrywide lock-down. However, he did not make clear how common people would get food, water and other necessities like medicines and healthcare during the lockdown, or how they would maintain a safe distance from one another! 

Mr Modi acknowledged that his order would create very difficult time for the poor people but did not make it clear whether exceptions would be made for workers and labourers critical to keep the country functioning and delivering the essential commodities to the citizens. 

Not only this, the administration is behaving like a police force and police force is functioning like mercenaries out to terrorise people by mercilessly beating them. 

Now, it is feared that more people are likely to die of starvation in the absence of employment, food and medicines than due to Corona virus. The time has come that the governments convert all large infrastructures like schools and stadia into improvised temporary hospitals and make available all the resources to overcome the health crisis. Time is over for building huge statues.

Will social distancing work?

India, like several other countries, is observing an unprecedented shutdown following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal for a Janata (people’s) curfew, where people have been urged to voluntarily stay indoors to check the spread of Corona virus. Mr Modi’s argument is that social distancing will be the key to breaking the chain of infection. Ok, but the fact is that the medical care centres, hospitals and communities, all over the world, have been practicing social distancing since time immemorial by putting the patients in isolation. Now, the moot question is for how long the practice of quarantine or social distancing will work? 

How effective the social distancing will be? 

Are not there better ways wherein the daily wage earners, small shopkeepers, homeless, sick, inland and foreign travellers, etc, etc are not ignored completely? 

Do not we need to establish more and more hospitals, medical research centres, virus study centres, laboratories, health camps, medicines, doctors, care givers and donors for facilitating and helping the affected? 

Do not we need to stop rumours and create an environment of science and technology? 

Do not we need to build more hospitals instead of expensive statues? 

Do not we need to spend more on health and research than on military and paramilitary forces? 

The point is that if such viruses spread at a large-scale, even the mightiest Army in the world cannot fight them. Therefore, better we create adequate infrastructures and facilities in the health and education sectors and not spend mindlessly on military, paramilitary forces and image building.

The point is to find a way where normal life is not disturbed and the Corona affected people get proper treatment in the hospitals of in their homes.

Food sovereignty — family farming one way for survival:

The pandemic caused by COVID-19 has also taught us very clearly that in near future we will have to produce our own food. The over dependence on market for everything we eat or use is not in tandem with the principle of survival. 

The lock-down in India, due to Corona virus, has emptied shops in the markets. Therefore, for our survival, we will have to produce our food and fruits and depend on market for those things only which we cannot produce ourselves. 

Reverse migration can help in achieving this noble objective. If people return to their villages and restart farming for their respective families, the over dependence on market will decrease significantly. It will also destroy monopoly of the corporate sector and rejuvenate the soil.

Some people may consider this as a Utopian idea, but, for sure, others would appreciate this as an idea having the power to change the way we live, in a positive way. 

What I mean is this is all about food sovereignty. Good food and a good life for everyone is the basic requirement, hence family farming. I think, good food and a good life can come only from the family farming in an organic way. This means, every village has to meet most of its food requirements from its own resources and by observing the environmental values. Therefore, the agriculture policy of any state or country has to be based on the values of environmental protection. 

The Corona era has taught us this lesson painstakingly as in small towns and villages, the supplies of life essentials are very limited or non-existent. Even people cannot find wheat flour and rice in their provision stores. The point is that if they grew their own food in their own farms, they would not face this situation. In a nutshell, family farming is essential for lasting food sovereignty.

Nature is master — we have to follow rules:

The widespread Corona pandemic has also demonstrated that almost all the governments in the world are not prepared for the worst despite so much talk on the global warming and climate change. 

The COVID-19 has changed the whole discourse and all the perceptions of development and progress in the fields of science, technology and medicine. 

The expeditions into the deep space have established that we need to work more on ourselves than exploring the blue skies. It has also been proved that nobody is the master of nature – not even so much ‘informed’, ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘enlightened’ Homo sapiens. Ultimately, we have to go by the rule of nature. And, nature is doing its job without any discrimination.

Superstition is curse:

Instead of following science, some of our leaders are spreading superstition. They are advising us to drink cow urine and use cow dung as body lotion to keep away the Corona virus. Is not this bullshit? Actually, this will never help. Superstition will not work. Only science will help us overcome the critical situation. Superstition is a socio-cultural curse having economic implications. A society cannot progress if it’s connection with superstition remains intact. On 22 March 2020, a large section of India showed it was still relying on superstition.

Environment and migration:

Even, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to stay home has fallen on the deaf ears. Migration continues to take place in the country because there is no employment for the daily earners in the cities. They have no place to stay as the property owners are asking them to vacate their premises in the wake of Corona virus. 

In a nutshell, people have faith neither in the system nor in their leaders. The impatient crowds at the Anand Vihar ISBT in Delhi lately clearly demonstrated that the people wanted join their respective families no matter how grave the Corona virus threat was. 

One more thing is very clear that the root-cause of migration is the deteriorated and degraded environment. If we wish to reverse the trend of migration, we need to urgently address the issue of deteriorated environment.

Let us build guest rooms for migrants and travellers:

In the wake of migration due so many reasons including environmental deterioration, every house and every community in a village or in a town has to build guest rooms for the migrants, refugees and travellers in an expression of solidarity with the humanity. In fact, we all are migrants and travellers at some point of time. 

I can understand this much more intensely at a time when I have been trapped in a nondescript mountainous place in the Garhwal Himalaya for last several days due to the nationwide COVID-19 lock-down. 

These days, I look like a migrant. I feel like a refugee. I feel like that because the local people stare at me as I look, wear and live differently. 

What would happen if a local family would not have given me refuge in their place? 

Where would I go? 

How would I survive? 

This contemplation has given me a deeper understanding of the situation of the migrants and refugees. We need to remember that migration has always been there and will be there till we are there. 

Therefore, we have to be compassionate towards migrants irrespective of their origin, caste, creed, colour, community, ethnicity and religion. 

It is sad that Corona virus effect has converted communities into hostile fortresses exposing how self-centred we are and how negligent we are towards others.

The fact is that we need to have a new vision for the world. 

Till now, the rich nations thought them to be impregnable forts. The myth has shattered on its own. The forts have collapsed. The COVID-19 spread throughout the world because these nations were closed in their respective forts. They did not bother about the outside world. 

But, COVID-19 made the whole world one. Now, the task for us is to clear the debris of all these forts and build open buildings instead — on the foundation of participatory and direct democracy, solidarity, human rights, non-violence and climate protection that will shelter all kinds of people from different parts of the world. 

In brief, we need a protection wall for the whole world, not forts for individual nations. If we continue to do so, there will be more dangerous viruses than Corona in near future.