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What do we learn from disasters and pandemics ?

Covid-19 has taught us many life lessons.It’s not just about hygiene and personal care.But,we have more responsibility towards our earth,water and other natural resources.All these blessings are not just for exploitation. It is high time we think and act seriously on our environment.Until each of us act,the time will revert with disasters,epidemics and it will lead to irreparable loss to humanity. There is a report that  when human interaction with nature was restricted during this pandemic,it   appeared as a blessing for nature and environment  Read an article by Dr.C.Ravindran

Man-made tragedies

Kerala experienced devastating rain, landslides and flood for the third consecutive year. We lost many human lives apart from houses, animals and crops. Even though we used to get heavy rain fall during monsoon extending from June to September every year, it never caused such a disaster as far as I can remember. So it remains as a question among many, why this much destruction, that too for three years at a stretch. Do we have to face this every year in future?

Who is responsible?

The answer appears complex. Who is responsible for all these? We are only to blame, the citizens of the state. We can argue that this is happening not only in Kerala. Other states of India also had floods and landslide. When the country as a whole is affected then it is a national issue. We have to examine, research, discuss and solve the issue at the national level.

When these issues are recurring, then the blaming finger will point to our approach to environmental issues. These include management of land, water and air. There is deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil due to human activity. This will lead to environmental degradation, which includes destruction of ecosystems. Environmental degradation is one of the primary causes for emergence of disease outbreaks. We have seen many new and emerging diseases during the last 2 decades and we find it difficult to contain such out breaks. Zoonosis  (A zoonosis is any disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans )is a consequence of deforestation when wild life increasingly enters the human habitats.

The major causes of the environmental degradation are urbanization, industrialization, population growth and deforestation. The availability and use of natural resources have a bearing on the outcome and the pace of development process. Healthy biological systems are basic for the long term development such as agriculture, business, wild life, fisheries and tourism.

Population growth and environmental degradation

The rapid population growth is a major cause of environmental degradation when it exceeds the thresh hold limits of the support systems. One thing we forget here is that, degraded environment can accelerate poverty because the poor and marginalized depend directly on natural assets. Direct impacts of agricultural development on the environment arise from farming activities which contribute to soil erosion and loss of nutrients. Deforestation is another consequence of increased farming activities. Deforestation again leads to soil erosion and the ultimate result is landslides and flood. In fact human beings have deeply altered the environment, and have modified the territory, exploiting the species directly, for example by fishing and hunting, changing the biogeochemical cycles and transferring species from one area to another.

The Ministry of Environment & Forests in the Government is responsible for protection, conservation and development of environment. The Ministry coordinate the activities through State Governments, Pollution Control Boards and specialized establishments. There is no effective coordination amongst various Ministries or/Institutions regarding environmental protection. Current policies are also fragmented across different states. These differing policies help unlawful activities to take place such as mining, blasting, deforestation and hunting. Environmentally fragile land should be protected from encroachments and unlawful activities to safeguard future generation from flash floods, soil erosion, landslide and loss of life.

Pressure groups rule;laws in papers only

In our country, many a time decisions are made on compulsions. There are pressure groups that will influence the administrators. I remember the decision of the district collector of Wayanad to ban all high-rise constructions in the district. His reasoning was simple. Wayanad being an environmentally fragile land, high rise buildings with its impact due to digging and piling may lead to soil erosion. This decision was immediately over ruled, probably because of pressure from builders. In United Kingdom high rise buildings are permitted only in metropolitan cities. Suburbs and villages can go up to 3 stories only. This is being strictly followed and monitored. Most of the time, when permission is granted for mining, sand blasting or construction, no monitoring is being done and hence violations are not brought to the notice. This is also very rampant in our country.

Outbreaks of pandemic;a concern for generations

What we need is strict rules that are not compromised on any sort of compulsion. There should be very strict and regular monitoring and we should come down heavily on non-compliance. Environmental deterioration and loss of biodiversity will heavily affect the people. This may be in the form of flood, landslides, loss of crops, attack by wild animals or outbreaks of rare and emerging diseases. So it becomes the duty of all citizens to protect our own environment.

Dr C Ravindran MD, DTCD, FRCP, MBA

Professor & Head

Dept. of Pulmonary Medicine

DM Wayanad Institute of Medical Sciences

Wayanad, Kerala


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