Views & Reviews
Celebrate Biodiversity: Reimagining a Sustainable Future Amid Covid-19 Pandemic
World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nation’s flagship campaign celebrated every year on the 5th of June to create awareness around the globe and a call to take action for the rapid deterioration of our environment. WED was first established in 1972 during the United Nations General Assembly, and 5th June marked the opening day of the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, which led to the establishment of the UN Environment Programme. WED was first held in 1974 under the theme ‘Only One Earth’ in Spokane, United States. Since then, it has become a global platform for public outreach with over 143 countries participating worldwide annually. India hosted this event twice, first in 2011 under the theme ‘Forest: Nature at your service’ and most recently in 2018 with the theme ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’. This year’s WED is hosted by Colombia in partnership with Germany under the theme ‘Celebrate Biodiversity’. Biodiversity is the variety and variability of living things on earth. There are over 8 million species on the planet with up to 1 million species threatened with extinction, many within decades. India with 2.4 percent of the world’s land area houses about 8 percent of the world’s biodiversity making it one of the 12 mega-diversity countries in the world. Life on earth is contingent on its environment, and biodiversity is the foundation that supports all life forms on earth. However, the greed of man with his irresponsible activity continues to injure the health of our environment, destabilising the foundation; the biodiversity, which supports every life on earth. The loss of biodiversity is attributed to the five main activities (According to IPBES and GEO-6 report) including changing patterns of land use, overexploitation of resources, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. Around 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihood and about 2.6 billion depend directly on agriculture. However every year 12 million hectares are lost due to drought or desertification. One in nine people are still undernourished today in the world. In India, around 30 percent of the land is degraded or facing desertification. It is estimated that in the last century alone, the global average sea level has risen by 19 cm due to warming and melted ice (the global mean warming has risen 1°C as compared to preindustrial levels). Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is projected to surpass 3°C in this century. Approx. 400 million MT of pollutants enter the water cycle every year, 5 trillion of macro and microplastic pieces are floating in the ocean, making 90 percent of marine debris. If we continue the path of species loss and environmental degradation, the implication arising out of biodiversity loss will be catastrophic, posing threat to food security, the collapse of the healthcare system, and risking humanity altogether. For instance, the present Covid-19 pandemic which is wreaking havoc around the globe making the world go helter-skelter is likely originated in bat. The Coronavirus outbreak has exemplified how zoonotic shift can pose a threat to humanity. It is estimated that 75 percent of all emerging diseases in humans are zoonotic. The underlining inference is that when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the life-supporting ecosystem. India has been witnessing a surge of extreme weather events. Most recently, the super cyclone Amphan occurred in the Bay of Bengal and caused widespread damage to Eastern India and Bangladesh. Amphan is the costliest cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean inflicting over 13 billion USD in damages. Experts have also linked this extreme weather event to climate change. Furthermore, we have been seeing news reports on the swarm of the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) attacking farmlands in East Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Pakistan, and now India. The desert locust originated in east Africa. It is estimated that a fistful of locust can eat as much as that of eight healthy grown men would per day. Experts have explained that exceptional cyclonic rainfall moistened the Empty Quarter deserts in Saudi Arabia in 2019, enabling a large quantity of locust to hatch and breed, subsequently spreading by the winds across the borders to India. Even in our home state, we have seen worm infestation in some districts of Nagaland, causing enormous damages to the crops. These are signs of climate change, a harbinger of a possible juggernaut disaster if action is not taken. Another very alarming observation was during the early phase of nationwide lockdown, where wild animals were hunted and posted on social media without any qualm in some parts of Nagaland. We must realise that the health of our environment is directly linked to our health and well-being. The recent extreme weather events and Covid-19 outbreak are a clarion call to combat the accelerating loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation. Overexploitation has threatened one-third of endangered species in the world. Not long ago, over-collection of medicinal and aromatic plants without any cultivation measures were rampant in Nagaland, our greed for paltry sum has pushed many medicinal plant and animal species to become endangered or threatened. It is estimated that as many as 80 percent of the people living in rural areas in the developing countries chiefly rely on traditional plant-based medicine for their basic healthcare. A total of 25 percent of drugs included in the international pharmacopeia are plant-based and vast others are synthetic analogs built on lead structure compound isolated from the plant. While the world is racing to develop new drugs or vaccines to treat Coronavirus disease, perhaps nature has the cure in the form of plant-based medicines. Medicinal plants such as Tinospora cordifolia, Coculus hirsutus, Withania somnifera, Glycyrrhiza glabra, are currently reported to be under trial for potential therapy. Therefore, let us reimagine a future by reversing this trend of rampant exploitation and biodiversity degradation, and become the custodian of our natural resources and protect and restore our vital ecosystem for a sustainable future.
“Nature provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed”-
Dr. Mechüselie Kehie