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How The Lockdowns And Lack Of People Benefitted Our Environment

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Abstract: The global Corona virus pandemic hit the entire world on such a scale that many countries sealed their international borders and imposed nationwide lockdowns. Actions taken to control the virus led to significant signs of improvement in the environment.

This study suggests restrictions on the activities led the environment to improve for a period. Air quality and water quality improved significantly during this period of lockdown.

Reduction in pollutants, industrial wastes, and chemical emissions may help in the resurgence of the environment across different parts of the world.

In this study, we will discuss the various impacts of lockdown on the environment. Recent studies suggest that post the outburst of Covid-19, environmental factors such as air quality, water quality in rivers are improving.

Here we will briefly study the effects of Covid-19 in the context of the environment of India. This research review also points out the possible ways to reach long terms environmental benefits. 

A scene of New Delhi during lockdown. Representational image. Photo credit: Amit Mehra, Indian Express.

Interplay Of Covid-19 And Environment

From a city in China (Wuhan) to the entire world, Covid-19 had spread its wings all over in a short period. It brought a drastic decrease in industrial activities, transportation, tourism, and human movement across the countries.

As the WHO (world health organization) declared the Corona virus disease (Covid-19) a pandemic, many countries sealed their international borders, imposed several restrictions to break the chain of the ongoing virus.

People were strictly advised to stay quarantined at their homes. They were only allowed to come outside for the essential services. Lockdown caused many tragedies but some positive impacts on the environment too.

Fewer tourism activities caused local, natural sources to see improvement for a period. Air and water pollution are two major concerns, that the world is facing for the last few decades and still failing to improve on.

Restrictions on activities led the ecosystem to improve and pollutants to decrease for a period. Air quality, water quality, and reduction in pollutants were some significant impacts it produced. =

Limited human contact with nature has proven to be a blessing for the environment and the ecosystem. Some climate experts suggested that due to the slowdown of industrial activities, greenhouses gases could drop to levels not recorded since 1930s.  

Impact Of Tourism On Environment  

International flights and other travel platforms were closed as soon as the virus appeared to  be out of control. Tourists from any part of the world were not allowed. Less tourism produced a substantial impact on local, natural resources.  

A report suggests that international tourism arrivals had dropped by 83% in the first quarter of 2021. It could take 2-4 years to rise, compared to the numbers in 2019.

A data analysis showed a substantial 84% fall in the arrival of foreign tourists between 2020 and May 2021, in India.  

 According to another report:

  • Over 1.4 billion tourists per year and 45 tourists per second travel to their destinations.   
  • Tourism contributes to around 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.   
  • By 2030, a 25% increase in carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions is expected, compared to 2016.  

Tourism often causes deterioration of local natural resources, the dump of tons of wastes, degradation of local lands, overuse of freshwater, and emissions of CO₂ by travel vehicles. In some places, tourism puts colossal pressure on land that can even lead to soil erosion.  

People started flocking to hill stations and the like, once the lockdown restrictions were relaxed. Representational image. Photo credit: The Economic Times.

As a result of the massive decline in tourism, there were significant losses of employment and local business. However, there were some positive impacts too. Local resources started to thrive amid the absence of tourists.

There was a considerable fall in plastic dump volume. Due to a halt on transportation, clear blue sky was visible, and natural landscapes could breathe life. Reduction in the flights along with their greenhouse gas emissions was a positive environmental effect.

Due to less water demand in tourism areas, where the water supply was already short, locals were relieved from this dilemma. Local rivers have been the victim of plastic wastes such as water bottles, polyethylene. These rivers recorded lower level of pollution.   

Impact Of Lockdown On Air Quality    

According to the latest air quality report 2019-’20, also released by Greenpeace, India ranked at 5th and 3rd positions in PM2.5 (particles that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres) levels. Out of the 50 most polluted cities across the world, 35 cities were from India.

This report shows that pollution is dangerously high in these cities. But lockdown showed a significant improvement in the air quality index and a decrease in the levels of PM2.5, overall.   

According to WHO air quality guidelines, the annual average susceptibility of PM2.5, should be less than 10 μg/m3″. The annual (2018) average concentration of PM2.5 was 72.50 μg/m3 in India. It significantly decreased, to 58.10 μg/m3 and 51.9 μg/m3, in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

While in Delhi, the level of PM2.5 was 98.6 μg/m3 in 2019, it came down to 84.1 μg/m3 in 2020. This level is nine times and eight times higher than the target. The numbers indicate severe health risks and hazards it can cause to human lives.

I think that most of the pollution in Delhi can be attributed to the stubble burning done by farmers from Haryana and Punjab. During lockdowns, crop burning was at its lowest in five years. But soon, pollution escalated again due to crop residue burning.

New Delhi was ranked as the most polluted world capital city in 2020. Nonetheless, it has reduced its pollution level significantly.  

Importance Of PM2.5 

PM2.5 is known to have the most hazardous impact on human health due to its omnipresence and ubiquity. These particles are injurious to the respiratory system and can cause respiratory illness and premature death.

PM2.5 is a 2.5 micron-sized airborne particulate, which emerges from industrial activities, fossil fuel mechanized vehicles, and biomass burning.

These PM2.5 particles have lesser width than the human hair, which allows these particles to dissolve in the blood during inhalation that leads to cause severe health diseases like asthma, lung cancer, etc. 

How Is PM2.5 Related To Covid-19?  

A study suggests that people who are subjected to prolonged air pollution, are more vulnerable to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. It is being associated with Covid-19, as the virus damages people’s respiratory system and lungs, too.

Due to plummeting of vehicle traffic, CO2 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions have decreased. These gases are combustion by-products of buses, trucks, and cars. CO2 is a greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, and NO2 plays a crucial role in the production of ozone and fine particulates.

NO2 also reacts with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to produce acid rain.   

Impact Of Lockdown On River Water Quality  

In the latest global water quality index, India ranks at 120 out of 122 countries.

Approximately 600 million Indians are experiencing issues while accessing clean drinking water.

Around 38,000 million liters of untreated sewage are discharged into rivers daily in India. The cause behind this is the inadequate sewage treatment facilities which can only treat 38% of the sewage.   

Industrial effluents alone contribute about 12% to the total effluent quantity in Ganga, which is the most enduring river in the northern part of India. Most of the major industries were closed during the lockdown, the water quality and quantity have consequently improved affluently in many rivers.

Due to the complete shutdown of industrial activities, dissolved oxygen level has increased. CO2 and NO2 concentration have decreased in the river Ganga, which improved the water quality overall.

Approximately 600 million Indians experience issues with accessing clean drinking water. Representational image. Photo credit: Altaf Ahmed, WaterAid India.

Rivers, which have more urban catchment areas, such as the Yamuna river in Delhi, have not improved their pollution level since its source is domestic sewage. There was no other significant improvement in the water quality of major rivers during Covid-19.  

Due to the lack of river water quality monitoring systems, a further detailed analysis is not possible. There’s an urgent need for the resurgence of these monitoring systems.   

Ways To Attain Long-Term Environmental Benefits 

The lockdowns in 2020 showed a ray of hope for the environment, but the semi-lockdown of 2021 led to no signs of improvement. During the third phase of the lockdown, pollution increased relatively high and air quality deteriorated once restrictions on the activities were suspended.

After a few months of the lockdown, people started to rush towards the tourism places in masses, and nature suffered same as before.  

A study of this critical situation suggested that partial restrictions are not the permanent solution. Pivotal steps ought be taken in the future to impart stability to the environment.

All nations should consider amending the environmental laws that deal with the current situation more congruously.

The following are some significant ways to attain long-term environmental benefits:

  • Government should encourage people to swap private vehicles with public transports. It could be a key solution for cleaner air, as vehicles emissions are the major source of gases that pollutes the environment.
  • Following the WHO guidelines in environmental bills to reduce the PM2.5 level. Other methods which are vital to maintaining PM2.5 levels are listed below:
  1. Diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles can be sub with electric which can lower emissions of CO2 and NO2.
  2. Preventing stubble burning by providing better technologies and education systems to farmers. Indian scientists have developed pusa bio-decomposer technology, which can turn crop residue in dung in two to three weeks. Some other technologies use rice straw to grow compost, biofuel, biogas, etc.    
  • Ecotourism is one of the best alternatives. It is a way of tourism that is more responsible for the conservation of natural resources, culture, and well-being of the local people. This process will require the tourists and staff to be educated.  
  •  Water is the most precious as well as an essential resource. There are some ways in which we can lessen water pollution:
  1. Wastewater treatment is an efficient way to retain pollutants from wastewater for cleaner water. 
  2. Green agriculture is the need of the hour. This is crucial in reducing chemicals entering the water. We need crops that are more climate-friendly and efficient irrigation systems.
  3. Air pollution has a poor effect on water quality, directly. So, it becomes vital to control air pollution first. 
  4. Most of the plastic wastes that enter rivers and lakes, are from daily uses and industries. We need to reduce the use of plastic and improve plastic waste management.  

As we all know, A healthy environment is the most vital factor for all living beings. Saving the environment is the biggest challenge; the world is facing currently.

Based on this literature review, we may conclude that temporary solutions are not beneficial for a prolonged period. The only way to save lives is by conserving the environment.

   Sources:  

Created by Arvind yogi

Is India really making Efforts towards Achieving Environmental benefits?

Featured image, taken from Sudarsan Pattnaik’s Twitter, is for representational purposes only.
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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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