“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” — WHO’s Constitutional Principle
Today is World Health Day. It is a global health awareness day celebrated every year on April 7 and observed by all member States of the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 1948, the WHO held the First World Health Assembly that decided to celebrate April 7 of each year as World Health Day, with effect from 1950. World Health Day is held to draw worldwide attention to a subject of major importance within global health each year. This year’s theme is ‘Building a Fairer and Healthier World for Everyone’.
The world is facing the Covid-19 pandemic, the sixth pandemic since the great influenza of 1918. Many nations are now entering the second and third wave of the deadly virus. Human beings have been confined to their homes. The pandemic has destroyed the socio-economic framework of all nations.
According to the WHO, the Covid-19 pandemic has undercut recent health gains, pushed more people into poverty and food insecurity, and amplified gender, social and health inequities. More than one billion people living in informal settlements or slums are facing increased challenges in preventing infection and transmission of the coronavirus.
It is said that environmental degradation and ecological imbalance due to anthropogenic activities are responsible for such pandemics. Population explosion, urbanisation, industrialisation, agriculture expansion and intensification, deforestation, household explosion, unsustainable economic activities and change in land-use are the main factors that are equally responsible for climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemics. Such unsustainable human activities bring wildlife and humans into closer contact and increase chances of disease spillover.
For example, deforestation is accelerating the transmission of infectious diseases by vector displacement. Such vector animals, which carry viruses, move into regions where they’ve never existed before and increase our vulnerability to diseases. This creates a greater possibility of dispersion of zoonotic diseases such as HIV, Ebola, Nipah, Zika, current Covid-19 etc. Many viruses exist harmlessly with their vector or host in forests because that host has co-evolved with viruses they carry.
The frequency of disease outbreaks, deforestation and biodiversity loss has been increasing rapidly since 1980. Between 1980 and 2013, there were 12,012 recorded outbreaks of 215 human infectious diseases, comprising 44 million individual cases in 219 nations.
The problem of climate change is also worsening this situation. According to the Global Carbon Project, atmospheric CO2 concentration in 2019 is 47% above the pre-industrial levels.
According to the WHO, climate variability has a direct influence on the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases; the disease spillover from animals to humans may increase as the climate becomes warmer.
Our preparedness towards controlling environmental degradation and emerging diseases will decide our future. For all this, we have to reduce our greed towards nature. It’s our responsibility to take steps to make Earth a habitable planet. For this, following steps should be taken:
1. Reduce your dependence on fossil fuel-based energy. Increase the use of renewable sources of energy. The IPCC 2018 report said that if global emissions are reduced by 45% by 2030, and brought down to net-zero by 2050, then there is only a 50% chance of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C in the 21st century.
2. Ban unsustainable logging. Forested areas should not drop below 33%.
3. Conservation of habitats and ecological niches.
4. Promote green and sustainable infrastructure.
5. Conserve water to save every drop of water. Water Budget should be an essential part of everyday life and planning.
6. Plantation of local species should be our priority. This will be helpful in biodiversity protection. Care After Plantation (CAP) should be ensured at the grassroots level by officials and citizens.
7. Pooling, cycling and walking should be part of our daily life.
8. There should be a Pollution Emancipation Force in every school, village, urban area, municipality and office. This force will help in sanitation and cleanliness.
9. A good Traffic management system to reduce air pollution.
10. Promoting awareness about environment conservation and sustainability through non-political ‘Climate Movement’ at grassroots level.
11. There should be a provision of compulsory plantation, sustainability, rainwater harvesting, circular economy, and sanitation and energy conservation in new housing societies because these are built by destroying the ecosystem of the area.
12. Health and medicine departments should be made more advanced to cope with epidemics and pandemics. Research and development should be given priority.
A recent EPA (Environment Protection Agency, USA) study found that every dollar invested in clean air resulted in a $30 benefit. In Los Angeles, six common pollutants dropped an average of 73% and the gross domestic product grew by 324%. These steps reduced the loss of workdays due to illness, lowered medical costs, lowered the premature deaths associated with particulate matter, improved health and productivity, improved the crop and timber yields, and encouraged tourism, recreation and healthy living.
If we want to make Earth a heaven with healthy ecosystems, forests, biodiversity and human life, then we shall have to take every step to reduce our carbon footprints, encourage sustainability, transform towards renewable energy, reduce our dependence on fossil energy, implement the circular economy, stop deforestation and stop the loss of ecosystems, biodiversity and their habitats. Every world citizen will have to work as a “messenger of nature” and “green soldier”. Let’s come and make a better world, safe for all.