Nature provides the foundation for human existence and prosperity, but humanity is waging war on it resulting in planetary crises, among others, (a.o), the climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and COVID-19. The Nature, Natural systems and the Natural resources are interlinked, interdependent, and are nested, occupying the biggest space by nature, medium level space by natural systems and small space by natural resources. They are also interchangeably referred to in this paper.
Several reports provide unequivocal and alarming evidence that the planet is flashing red warning signs of natural systems failure. The way we produce and consume food and energy, along with the blatant disregard for the environment entrenched in our current economic model, has pushed nature to its limits. The consequences of our recklessness are apparent in human suffering together with towering economic losses.
Making peace with nature is the defining task of the coming decades. We still have a chance to put things in the right perspective. It’s time for the world to agree on a “New Deal for Nature and People”, committing to stop and reverse the degeneration of natural systems and build a nature – positive economy and society with peace and justice.
By recognising it’s true value of nature in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments in activities that restore nature and enhance resilience and long term sustainability. Urgency and ambition are needed to transform various systems, including how we produce and consume food, sustainably manage water, provide sanitation, and manage forests, biodiversity, land and oceans. A sustainable economy driven by renewable energy and nature-based solutions will create new jobs, cleaner infrastructure and a resilient future. An inclusive world at peace with nature can ensure that people enjoy better health, the full respect of their human rights, and to live with dignity on a healthy planet.
A surge in fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) in recent years has left a trail of human suffering, displacement and protracted humanitarian needs. By 2030, up to two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor will live in situations affected by FCV. Violent conflicts have increased to the highest levels, observed over the past 30 years. The world also faces the largest displacement crisis ever, with more than 79 million people fleeing conflict and violence. These challenges are exacerbated by risks, such as nature destruction, violent extremism, and pandemics like COVID-19.
Human choices shaped by values and institutions, have given rise to the interconnected planetary and social imbalances, we face. If equity innovation and stewardship become central to what it means to live a good life, human flourishing can happen alongside easing planetary pressures as under:-
Addressing fragility, conflict, and violence; tackling climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies; protecting and enhancing natural capital and ecosystem integrity; building resilience to natural hazards and extreme climate events; responding to environmental health risks; transforming food, water and energy systems to meet growing human needs in an equitable, resilient and environmentally friendly manner; transforming economic and financial systems so they lead and power the shift toward sustainability; supporting environmental justice movement to enhance the power of unseen, unheard and undervalued groups, and recovering from COVID-19 pandemics.
All the above issues have found solid footing on the ground, including human rights, nature protection, human health and livelihoods with peace and prosperity and thereby setting a determined new path towards sustainable development.
Addressing Planetary crises
Climate change poses serious challenges to environmental sustainability through natural hazards, extreme weather events, species loss, water scarcity, food and nutritional insecurity, cost of public health and many other impacts. A 2018 study on, “Climate change and violent conflict” by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said, “as the effects of climate crisis on livelihoods become more pronounced, support for rebel groups is likely to shoot”.
The Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) concludes that evidence of changes in the climate system is unequivocal, with the atmosphere and oceans warming, glaciers and polar ice melting, sea level rising, and greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration increasing. This scenario is of particular significance for South Asia as this region is highly vulnerable to climate – induced natural disasters and rising sea levels. Climate change could cause over 62 million people to be displaced in South Asia by 2050. “The South Asia’s Hotspots: Impacts of Temperature and Precipitation Change on Living Standard Report” says that 800 million people in the region live in FCV areas, where livelihoods are vulnerable to climate impacts and for potential displacement. For reducing the impact of climate change and promoting peaceful societies, the initiated programmes include: reducing carbon emissions, changing the energy mix, and mitigating the effects of climate change; help countries in formulation of “National Adaptation Plans (NAPs)” to strengthen resilience and adapt to climate change; build resilience to natural hazards and extreme climate events, and adoption of climate – smart practices and better water management.
India is highly vulnerable to climate change as under:-
Extreme weather events can impact 75% of India’s districts – with a spike in such events since 2005;
There is a shift occurring in the pattern of extreme climate events, flood-prone areas are becoming drought-prone and vice-versa in over 40% districts; in 2020, floods in Assam affected more than 60,000 people while Hyderabad recorded rainfall of 29.8 cms in 24 hours – Cyclone Amphan, which impacted the coastal districts of West Bengal, displaced over 4.9 million people; between 1970 and 2004, three extreme flood events occurred annually on average. After 2005, the yearly average rose to 11. Similarly, the annual average for districts affected by floods rose to 55 from 19. The yearly average number of districts affected by cyclones has tripled since 2005 and the cyclone frequency has doubled, and six of the ten extreme weather events globally in 2020 took place in Asia, with floods in India and China causing damages of over $40 billion.
Climate change resilience actions included:-
Bold steps on clean energy and energy efficiency, developing disaster risk reduction strategies in the face of growing climate threats; afforestation and biodiversity conservation; sustainable life-styles and guiding philosophy of “back to basics”; mobilising green finance, clean technology and green collaboration; strengthening resilience to climate change and natural disasters; making natural resources, environment and water infrastructure resilient to drought, and accelerating technologies, like hydrogen, carbon capture, use and storage, soil and forest carbon, and energy storage to backup renewable sources and decarbonise transport, and low or zero emissions in steel and aluminum production.
Biodiversity is fundamental to human life on Earth. But it is being destroyed at an unprecedented rate. Since the industrial revolution, human activities have increasingly destroyed and degraded forests, grasslands, wetlands and other important ecosystems, threatening human well-being. Seventy-five per cent of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has already been significantly altered, most of the oceans are polluted, and more than 85% of the area of wetlands has been lost.
Biodiversity loss threatens food and nutritional security and urgent action is needed to address this issue. Where and how we produce food is one of the biggest human-activity related threats to nature and our ecosystems, making the transformation of our global food system more important.
Data from the United Nations Environment Programme shows that, per person, our global stock of natural capital has declined by nearly 40 % since the early 1990s, while the produced capital has doubled and human capital has increased by only 13%. For scaling up and accelerating the conservation, sustainable use and restoration of biodiversity started following activities:-
Sustainable management and restoration of landscape and seascape that are productive and often inhabited; new land – and resource-use rules and objectives that are beneficial neutral or at least much less harmful to biodiversity; recognition of the custodial traditions and knowledge of indigenous peoples and tribals and local communities, and the use of participatory approaches to resource management; fisheries reform, integrated spatial planning, conservation, climate mitigation and reducing pollution are all key to storing marine life; key actions to conserve biodiversity such as reversing the net loss of habitat, battling over-fishing, reducing pollution and slowing the spread of invasive alien species, and protected area network need to be expanded, interconnected and better managed.
Widespread pollution is one of the root causes of disease burden, especially among lower economic strata and women. There is widespread risk of environmentally induced mortality and morbidity from indoor and urban air pollution, drinking water contamination, poor sanitation, and vector-borne diseases. Establishment and enforcement of air and water quality standards, Cartagena bio-safety protocol and integrated vector management are critical policy responses. Reducing pollution requires both regulatory and economic approaches to accelerate needed energy and resource use efficiencies, which may include promoting renewable energy and developing sustainable transportation infrastructure.
Air and water pollution, land degradation and climate changes act synergistically to cause pervasive, extensive and systematic damage to biodiversity and ecosystem services on land and in the ocean. Water pollution and air pollution are often linked, since diversion of waste from one pathway can simply displace into another pathway. Reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases typically also reduce air pollution. Plastic and chemical waste entering the biosphere contribute to both biodiversity loss and to land degradation. The multiple interactions between environmental problems mean that uncoordinated single use solutions are inefficient and likely to fail. Integrated land-water-waste management including agroforestry reduced land, water and air pollution. Technology has optimised the use of resources and products are now circular by design, ending flow of waste and restoration of nature.
Poor air quality is dangerous to public health. Long-term exposure to outdoor and household pollution contributed to over 1.67 million deaths in India in 2019. It also contributed to the deaths of more than 1, 16,000 Indian infants in their first month of life in 2019. As per the U.S. based Health Effects Institute, more than half of these deaths were associated with outdoor PM 2.5 and others were linked to use of solid fuels such as charcoal, wood and animal dung for cooking.
By adopting a holistic approach to tackle the crisis, carried out and monitored on a real time basis with a strong push towards the behavioral change of citizens. Helped in air pollution reduction through: proactive efforts of National Clean Air Plan (NCAP); stepped-up efforts in consumption of renewable energy and phasing out of fossil fuels; universalised access to clean cooking fuel; reducing the pollution at source, such as improved public transport; better planning of green cover to reduce dust; avoiding forest fires, burning of agricultural residues and wastes, and better regulation of construction works.
Increasing support to fragile conflict & violence (FCV) affected places.
There are more than 1.5 billion people living in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence. In 2019, the number of people forced out of their home exceeded 79.5 million who have largely migrated from FCV affected countries. Such areas are invariably marked by abundance of arms, rampant gender and sexually based violence, the exploitation of children, the persecution of minorities and vulnerable groups (such as Indigenous People), organised crime, smuggling, trafficking in human beings and other criminal activities. In such situations organised criminal groups are often better resourced than local government and better armed than local law enforcement agencies.
Initiated actions to restore human security, human rights and the rule of law: (i) Persuaded governments to strengthen judicial, police and corrections systems by providing human, financial and material resources; (ii) improved protection of civilians and access to justice and rule of law; (iii) addressed some of the worst consequences of conflict such as forced displacement; (iv) built resilient societies through investment in inclusive and sustainable development; (v) addressed grievances related to exclusion – from access to power, natural resources, security and justice; (vi) empowerment of communities and inclusive decision making for sustained peace; (vii) supported sustainable growth, created jobs, alleviated poverty in indigenous areas; (viii) promoted people – centered approach for managing natural resources and sharing of benefits derived from them, and (ix) strengthened local conflict resolution mechanisms, while promoting peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
Avoiding Pandemics and the transition to a sustainable world.
We have had three pandemics since 2000 – severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009 and now Covid-19. Covid-19 and SARS spread from China and swine flu from an intensive pig farm in Mexico. In between, we have had regional outbreaks of bird flu from poultry, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) from camels, Ebola from monkeys and pigs, Rift Valley Fever from livestock, West Nile Fever from birds. Zika from monkeys and Nipah from bats. The root cause of all the above diseases can be broadly put under three baskets:-
First, nature destruction. Due to deforestation and habitat loss, wild animals and humans are now nearby, leading to the spillover of animal diseases into humans. Ebola, West Nile virus, Nipah and Zika come under this category. Similarly, livestock is also coming in contact with wildlife and transmitting pathogens to people, like the Rift Valley virus.
Second, traditional culture. The practice of eating exotic wildlife, sometimes raw, is spreading novel pathogens to human beings. Both SARS and Covid-19 have their origins in the pig farm of Mexico and wildlife markets in China.
Third, intensive animal farms. The industrial farming of animals, by keeping animals very close to each other and pumping them with growth promoters like antibiotics and steroids, is another cause. Bird flu and swine flu both have their origin in intensive animal farms.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unleashing a human development crisis. It is affecting health, economy and broad social dimensions of development and eroding gains that accumulated over decades. Building back a better future after the pandemic is not a zero-sum game of environment versus economy. Rather its once – in – a generation chance to set things right for health, economy, peace, and security.
To combat the pandemic, our efforts included the following:-
“Distancing” from wildlife and reducing deforestation; strong social protection for the poor and vulnerable to ensure that they have enough to eat, access clean drinking water and sanitation, and strengthening health systems, disease surveillance and public health interventions with vaccine;
For mitigating COVID-19 impacts and boosting long-term growth will include:-
Science-based decision making, sound governance and a sense of responsibility of individuals; promoting and operationalizing the One Health Approach; preparedness, including via policies for reducing risks of disease emergence such as from land use and wildlife trade; closing of critical knowledge gaps, and engaging all sectors of society, and everything we do during and after this crisis (COVID-19) must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution crisis, and the many global challenges we face.
Avoiding single use of plastic.
Global production of plastic (an extremely lightweight material) was 359 million tonnes in 2018, up from 1.5 million tonnes in 1950, even though it is widely known that plastic seriously harms ecosystems, especially oceans, marine life and even drinking water. More than 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year equals to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute, and recent estimates show that 14 million tonnes of micro-plastic already resides on the ocean floor. Fish and other species ingest and get entangled in plastic, and the micro-particles can be ingested by humans who consume fish or seafood. Plastic particles also reach tap water in many areas, more than 80 percent of samples from five continents are found to be contaminated with plastic particles. Ingesting plastic particles can have direct consequences on human health, as it may cause cancer, reproductive problems, asthma, obesity and other health problems. Though a few countries have already witnessed a change in some social norms, plastic bags are seen as offensive, are charged for using them, or are prohibited altogether.
Building sustainable and inclusive cities and communities.
Cities and communities are negatively affected by climate change, loss of nature and pollution, hindering them in becoming inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable We have to make cities livable, climate smart and resilient, inclusive, and competitive, so they can contribute to growth and poverty alleviation. Urban development plans designing, and implementation should improve:-
Reducing air pollution; safe drinking water supply, sanitation and hygiene; goals of reduced waste, solid waste management, a circular economy and greater resource efficiency; upgrading the code and housing rental laws; improving public transport, other infrastructure and service delivery; strengthening institutions, municipal infrastructure, and local economic development; strengthening financial sustainability, expanding access to finance from multiple sources; open public spaces and greening promote health and productivity; development of MSMEs transforming economic and financial system; ensuring accessible and quality health care; protecting the poor and vulnerable through social protection; building human capital and promoting economic inclusion; promoting private sector-led growth; bridging the digital divide, and unleashing the economic power of women.
Sustainable management of natural resources.
It is rare to visualise that equitable access to natural resources lies at the foundation of conflicts and violence, whether among the societal groups or between the communities and nations. Disparities in the access to natural resources arise for several reasons including the spatial variability in their distribution and simply the scarcity of a resource in the wake of increasing demand. In this context, managing following natural resources is urgently required:-
1) Land degradation affects billions of people, drive species to extinction and intensify climate change. To achieve ‘land degradation neutrality’, promote sustainable land management, strengthen productivity to ensure food and nutritional security. Help the poorest, hungriest and most marginalized people, build the capacity of communities and prevent violence due to poverty, hunger and inequality, and promote regenerative agriculture, agroforestry and silvopasture to yield many of the same benefits, including increased diversity of farmer income, improved nutrition, enhanced resilience to climate change, more carbon sequestration and greater biodiversity.
South Asia is particularly vulnerable with the number of chronically – underfed people, which is projected to rise by almost a third to 330 million by 2030. Here more than half the children from the poorest of the society are stunted, a condition that prejudices their future.
Challenges in farming in developing countries include: lower yields; depleting water resources; high cost of production; excessive use of chemicals and pesticides; poor market access; high post-harvest loss; poor application of technology and innovations; Inadequate food processing, and agricultural reforms yet to be implemented.
For achieving the target of zero hunger made following efforts:- promoting diversified agro-ecological systems; application of technologies and innovations to raise production while reducing cost; making farming predictable, showing better quality and yields because of satellite images, 107 sensors, data analysis (including AI, ML), cloud computing & precision farming; developing market for premium products; air-conditioned farmer’s trains for transporting organic, natural and fresh products to the consumers; cold storage chains reduced loss and waste; value addition, processing and fortification improved nutrition; policy and institutional innovations expanded market access and export; climate-smart agriculture avoided crop loss; water stewardship enabled “more crop per drop”; creation of agroforestry increased resilience and profitability of farmers; production of biofuels reduced air pollution and improved the rural economy, and agribusinesses promoted sustainable economy, created jobs with peace and prosperity.
2) Water is a precious resource that is essential to human health, sanitation and hygiene, food and energy security, poverty eradication and many other aspects of Sustainable Development. Alarming levels of water stress in many regions, threaten progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals. Lack of fresh water in the poorest countries is increasing their vulnerability. Ensured public participation in sustainable water resources management, water governance, and women’s roles in local peace-building processes.
Global water use has risen six fold over the past 100 years, and 80 percent of wastewater is released back without treatment, while about half of accessible freshwater is appropriated for human use each year. Since 1900, 64-71 percent of natural wetland area worldwide has been lost due to human activity. As a result, about 4 billion people – 60 percent of the world population – live in regions with nearly permanent water stress, and 3 billion people lack basic hand washing facilities at home. By 2030 global demand for water is expected to exceed supply by 40 percent, and about 6 million people might face clean water scarcity and violent conflicts by 2050. Enhancing water availability and quality is thus a major challenge.
Nature – based solutions focused on water availability to address water supply by managing water storage, infiltration and transmission are essential. For instance, natural wetlands, improvements in soil moisture and groundwater recharge are ecosystem friendly methods of storing water and are cheaper and more sustainable than building and maintaining big dams.
Nature – based solutions for cities include catchment management, water recycling and green infrastructure. Catchment measures are traditionally used to improve water supply, but they can also store water and control regular water flows to a city. Urban green infrastructure is incorporated in infiltration, bio-retention, permeable pavements, designing new areas, conserving wetlands and connecting rivers and floodplains.
India has more than 17 percent of the world’s population but has only 4% of the world's fresh water. With the rising population, urbanisation, industrialisation and expanding agricultural activities, the water demand will continue to increase.
Created mass awakening for making world “water positive” with reflections as under:-
Making water conservation a way of life; multi–level Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) implementation from the community level, leading to integrated river basin management; rainwater harvesting, surface water storage and groundwater recharge; work on waste water treatment, adopt “reduce, reuse and recycle” approach for sustainable water management; follow practices like micro – irrigation, drip and sprinkler systems to promote efficient use of water for agriculture; deployment of piezometer to estimate groundwater situation and regulate over exploitation; incentivizing water conservation efforts undertaken by the communities, such as “Repair, renovation and restoration (RRR)” of water bodies for storage and efficient use; raising green cover can turn off red alarm on water shortage; “Namami Gange” project to save the river Ganga from pollution and to rejuvenate it; under “Jal Jeevan Mission” providing 55 litres piped drinking water per capita per day to 190 million rural households; India’s current water requirement is estimated to be around 1100 billion cubic meters (BCM) per year and it is projected to touch 1,447 BCM by 2050. Hence it is imperative to increase water use efficiency across all sectors to address water scarcity problem, and capacity building of people in water and sanitation related activities.
3) Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystem on land, home of 80% of terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. They store about 296 Gigaton of carbon and counter climate change. They conserve soil, fix nitrogen and add organic matter to improve soil fertility. Forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75% of fresh water. They clean air and water, provide critical wildlife habitat, and make the planet a healthier place to live.
Biologically rich forest ecosystems provide shelter, food, fodder, fibre, energy, water, herbal medicine, jobs and environmental security to the people. Forests are an important source of income for more than 1.6 billion poor people, of whom at least 370 million Indigenous Peoples depend almost entirely on forests for subsistence and survival. Forests and agro-forests offer a highly diverse array of products and income earning opportunities for gatherers, hunters, traders, producers and processors.
Forests are increasingly being recognized as a vital green infrastructure for storing carbon, protecting watersheds, biodiversity and providing livelihoods to billions of people. Deforestation, forest degradation, forest fires, and non-recognition of forest rights of forest-dwellers, increased poverty, hunger and inequality and risks causing fragility conflict and violence.
The degradation and loss of forests are disrupting nature’s balance and increasing the risk and exposure of people to zoonotic diseases. For landscape restoration and human well-being promoted conservation, preservation and sustainable management of forests. BY increasing productivity, growth and jobs enhanced sustainability and resilience with peace and security in most disturbed areas dominated by Mao-naxalites.
Forest restoration is a path to recovery and well-being of people and the planet. People – centered forest management makes a sustainable world where people can live productive, vibrant and peaceful lives on a healthy planet.
4) Aquatic Resources: More than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries have been fully exploited or over-exploited or have collapsed altogether. Over-fishing has profound impacts on the world’s food systems. About 3.1 billion people rely on fish for 20 percent of their daily protein intake. Globally, the consumption of seafood per capita is over 15 times higher in indigenous coastal communities than in non-indigenous communities.
Sustainable fisheries and protected marine areas ensure that fish populations can regenerate and provide sustainable yields. Protecting coastal and marine areas, such as the mangroves, coral reefs, sea-grass beds and seamounts, particularly the sites of fish spawning, nursery and aggregation, is crucial to various parts of the fish life cycle. Fish biomass can be as much as 670 percent higher in effectively managed marine protected areas than in unprotected areas. Expanding marine protected areas by 5 percent could yield at least a 20 percent increase in future catch, reducing violent conflicts.
5) Embedding ecosystem integrity into sustainable development policy-making.
Rather than being treated as an isolated sector in national development priorities, nature-based solutions can be integrated into prioritisation efforts, such as those related to water security, food security, disaster risk reduction, economic growth and jobs. Investing in nature and climate-aligned stimulus packages can yield returns of $ 2-10 per $ 1 invested. To achieve this, multiple government sectors can align their policies and priorities around a coherent framework, as Costa Rica and Uganda have done. For instance, Costa Rica recently undertook an extensive mapping of essential life support areas, identifying opportunities for protecting, restoring and managing nature through nature-based solutions in both rural and urban areas.
There is no blueprint for nature-based solutions for governance, and each country’s economic, institutional, social and political context will present different opportunities and barriers. However, high multi-sector participation and incentives for nature-based solutions implementation could be important everywhere. The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis has identified three governance structures, which enable the implementation of nature-based solutions. These include: polycentric governance, participatory co-design (for example, at the municipal level in Costa Rica constant stakeholder involvement and technical knowledge transfer) and financial incentives.
Protection of women’s rights and gender equality.
Gender disparities remain among the most persistent forms of inequality across all countries. Women and girls are discriminated in health, in education, at home and in the labour market with negative repercussions for their freedoms. Globally, countries are losing US$ 160 trillion in wealth due to differences in lifetime earning between men and women.
The women and girls also face the problems of: trafficking for sexual exploitation and labour force; often denied to decision making at home, at work and in political life; disproportionate share of unpaid jobs and domestic work, and gaps in legal frameworks to protect women’s rights and gender equality
Contributed to gender equality by: removing barriers to women’s ownership and control of assets; removing constraints for more and better jobs, and enhancing women’s voice and agency.
Women tend to be responsible for procuring and providing food in households and are the primary work force engaged in subsistence agriculture. They make up an average of 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries. Even so, the women experience barriers in access to land and agricultural inputs which affect the productivity in these sectors. Ensured greater female participation in natural resource management, productive agricultural activities, and natural disaster responses. This enhanced the effectiveness and sustainability in reducing poverty, hunger, inequality and the mitigation of climate change effects and nature disruption.
Energy and materials.
The emphasis of industrial and agricultural activity needs to shift from increasing the inputs of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements into the Earth system to increasing the recycling of these elements within the Earth system. The input of solar energy can far outstrip the current fossil fuel-based energy consumption. In addition, renewables are already cost competitive with fossil fuel-based electricity generation in much of the world. As a result, there should be no long-term shortage of energy. The challenge is to design and incentivize a waste products based system for energy generation and include it in a circular economy. Domestic waste material can also become useful in making new products, and this way there is a huge potential to increase material recycling. Innovation and engineering need to shift attention to achieve material cycling and reuse.
We are at an unprecedented moment in the history of humankind and our planet. Warning lights-for our societies and the planet – are flashing red. We are destabilizing the planetary system as we rely on only for survival. In little more than a decade, there have been global financial crisis, the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, the pollution crisis, and the COVID-19 crisis. All have shown that the resilience of the system itself is breaking down. Buffering systems are running over their capacity. The result is that perturbations have become contagion- whether economic, social, environmental or viral.
The 2019 was a year when our past finally caught up with us and science provided an unambiguous call for urgent action. A year when the world witnessed devastating storms, ice sheets melting in the Arctic, giant wildfires and deadly floods. A year when we were warned that one million plant and animal species face extinction. A year when we were reminded that unless we act immediately to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions, we will alter life on Earth forever.
In 2020, the World faced it’s biggest COVID-19 crisis since World War II. We stand in solidarity with the billions of people around the world that are suffering the impact of the global pandemic of COVID-19 and extend our heartfelt gratitude to the millions of healthcare professionals, scientists, vaccine makers etc. including the World Health Organization (WHO), who are working around the clock to protect us. In due course, this crisis will call for a stronger line of enquiry into nature and health, as the connection between the health of people and the health of our planet is so fundamental, yet so often ignored.
While the response to the medical emergency of COVID-19 rightly preoccupies government budgets and political action, the response to this pandemic must ultimately accelerate the economic and social transformations needed to address the planetary emergency. As the UN Secretary-General noted in his State of Planet speech, “COVID recovery and our planet’s repair must be two sides of the same coin”.
The “repair” of our planet entails, the transformative actions that can unleash human ingenuity and cooperation to secure livelihoods and well-being for all. It means solutions that recognise how our environmental, social and development challenges are interconnected. It means shifting our values and worldviews as well as our financial and economic systems. It also means taking a whole-of-society approach. And it means being fair and just to enhance sustainability and resilience and set the world on a path of peace, prosperity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet.
With science as guiding light, United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s ) Medium-Term Strategy (2022-2025) seeks to ensure the link between science, policy and decision-making remains stronger than ever. Sustained by strong environmental governance and supported by economic policies that can be the foundation of a catalytic response to the challenges of COVID-19, climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. In doing so, we support governments, working with partners, scientists, civil society and business to tackle the interconnected environmental crises so that we stabilize climate; live in harmony with nature and secure a pollution free planet; with peace and security.
By the end of the decade we will be on one of two paths. One is the path of surrender, where we have sleepwalked past the point of no return, jeopardizing the health and safety of everyone on this planet. The other option is the path of hope. A path of resolve, of sustainable solutions. A path where more fossil fuels remain where they should be – in the ground.
In the technologically advanced World, harnessing renewable sources of energy has become inevitable. There is a need to produce energy with fewer environmental impacts. In the modern World, the renewable energy has become the foundation of future progress from reversing the increasingly devastating effects of climate change and making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
If humanity is to continue to thrive on this planet, it has to fundamentally change its relationship with the natural world. While the downsides of inaction could be catastrophic, the upsides of taking decisive action would result in a more secure World at peace with nature, facilitating living of people with dignity on a healthy planet.
The 2021 must be remembered as the year we took it upon ourselves to ensure that the pandemic is remembered not only as a human tragedy, but as the moment when people reconsidered their priorities as individuals and societies and took to heart that safeguarding the health and well-being of current and future generations means safeguarding the health of our planet. We still have a chance to put things right. We have to stop and reverse the loss of nature and build a carbon-neutral and nature positive society. Let us implement the movement “Making Peace with Nature” to protect and restore nature as the foundation for a healthy society and thriving economy.
(The Writer is a renowned environmentalist)
Hyderabad, July 4 (IANS) Green India Challenge, an initiative of Rajya Sabha member J. Santosh Kumar to improve the green cover, on Sunday entered its fourth year with an attempt to plant one million saplings in one hour in Telangana's Adilabad district to enter the Guinness Book of World Records.
The programme was organised on the occasion of TRS MLA Jogu Ramanna's 58th birthday.
Santosh Kumar, Telangana's Minister for Forests and Environment A. Indra Karan Reddy along with Jogu Ramanna witnessed active and enthusiastic participation from the general public in the massive programme. TRS members, MLAs, political leaders and others committed to saving the environment, participated in it.
During the event, 5 lakh saplings were planted through the Miyawaki model in the degenerated forest area spread over 200 acres in Durganagar of Adilabad rural region. In a span of 60 minutes, two lakh saplings were planted in Adilabad Rural Bela mandal. As many as 1.80 lakh saplings were planted in the urban region. Volunteers ensured the plantation of 1.20 lakh saplings on either side of R&B road.
The programme was planned and successfully executed by dividing the entire region into 10 sectors where more than 30,000 TRS members and locals participated.
With this Green India Challenge hopes to find a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, by breaking Turkey's record of planting 303,000 saplings set in 2019.
The entire programme has been video recorded as per the norms and will be sent to Guinness Book World Records, said the organisers.
Santosh Kumar congratulated Jogu Ramanna for committing to this noble cause on his birthday and urged everyone to take care of the saplings. Speaking on the occasion, Indra Karan Reddy said that the pandemic made everyone realise the importance of safeguarding the environment and climate.
The representatives of Wonder Book of Records gave an appreciation certificate to the organisers after observing the plantations in Durga Nagar region.
Jogu Ramanna thanked everyone for taking part in Green India Challenge and expressed his gratitude in making it a grand success. On this occasion, the MLA donated two ambulances to RIMS hospital.
New Delhi, June 14 (IANS) Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday told the United Nations that in the last 10 years, around 3 million hectares of forest cover has been added in India.
In his keynote virtual address on 'High-Level Dialogue on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought' at the UN, the Prime Minister said the total combined forest cover of India has been raised to almost one-fourth of the country's total area.
Modi spoke at the opening segment in his capacity as the President of the 14th Session of the Conference of Parties of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Terming land as the fundamental building block for supporting all lives and livelihoods, Modi called for reduction of the tremendous pressure on land and its resources.
"Clearly, a lot of work lies ahead of us. But we can do it. We can do it together," he said.
The Prime Minister also listed the steps taken by India to deal with the land degradation issue. He said that India has taken the lead to highlight land degradation issues at international fora.
The Delhi Declaration of 2019 called for better access and stewardship over land, and emphasised gender-sensitive transformative projects.
In India, over the last 10 years, around 3 million hectares of forest cover has been added. This has enhanced the combined forest cover to almost one-fourth of the country's total area, the Prime Minister informed.
Modi conveyed to the UN that India is on track to achieve its national commitment of land degradation neutrality.
"We are also working towards restoring 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. This would contribute to India's commitment to achieve an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent," he said.
The Prime Minister gave the example of the Banni region in Rann of Kutch in Gujarat to illustrate how restoration of land can start a virtuous cycle of good soil health, increased land productivity, food security and improved livelihoods.
In the Banni region, land restoration was done by developing grasslands, which helped in achieving land degradation neutrality. It also supports pastoral activities and livelihood by promoting animal husbandry.
"In the same spirit, we need to devise effective strategies for land restoration while promoting indigenous techniques," the Prime Minister stressed.
In the spirit of South-South cooperation, India is assisting fellow developing countries to develop land restoration strategies.
A Centre of Excellence is being set up in India to promote a scientific approach towards land degradation issues, informed the Prime Minister.
"It is mankind's collective responsibility to reverse the damage to land caused by human activities. It is our sacred duty to leave a healthy planet for our future generations," the Prime Minister concluded.
New York, May 12 (IANS) Driven to extinction in the US 50 years ago, now is the time to talk about reintroducing jaguars there, a group of scientists say.
In a study published on Tuesday in the journal Conservation Science and Practice, the authors provide a prospective framework for this effort and describe "righting a wrong" done to "America's Great Cat" in the Southwest more than 50 years ago.
The big cats lived for hundreds of years in the central mountains of Arizona and New Mexico but were driven to local extinction by the mid-20th century, in part because of killing by government hunters.
Authors of the study include a diverse set of scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Center for Landscape Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, Wildlands Network, Pace University, Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro, Life Net Nature, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
In March, a separate study suggested that an area in central Arizona and New Mexico spanning two million acres (82,000 sq km) can provide potentially suitable habitat for 90 to 150 jaguars.
This area, roughly the size of South Carolina, was not considered in the 2018 US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for the jaguar. That plan considered only habitat south of Interstate Highway 10 (an artificial boundary considering historic jaguar records north of that) and therefore concluded there was habitat for only six jaguars in the U.S.
However, habitat destruction, transportation infrastructure, natural constrictions in the landscape, and the border wall mean that natural reestablishment of female jaguars from source populations in Mexico to this recovery region is unlikely over the next 100 years.
The authors of Tuesday's study conclude that reintroduction of jaguars should be examined as a viable alternative. The authors believe that restoring jaguars can be a net benefit to people, including culture and local economies, and nature and would represent the return of an original part of the US fauna.
The study focuses on five dimensions of the reintroduction project: conservation rationale, history, ecological context, human context and practical considerations.
"The jaguar lived in these mountains long before Americans did," said Eric Sanderson, WCS Senior Conservation Ecologist and lead author of the study. "If done collaboratively, reintroduction could enhance the economy of this region and the ecology of this incredible part of jaguar range."
The study notes some key aspects of the reintroduction effort to be discussed with relevant officials and the public in central Arizona and New Mexico, noting that the region is a habitat unique in all of the jaguar's range, representing a special and valuable part of jaguar's ecological diversity.
The Central Arizona and New Mexico Recovery Area (CANRA) is vast, covered with suitable vegetation, and well populated with potential prey. Given its elevation and latitude, it may provide an important climate refuge for the species in the future, though further research is required.
The study says the majority of the land is managed for the public good, mainly (68 per cent) by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service, with several large designated wilderness areas.
Only 381,000 people live in this area, primarily in towns and cities. The most important economic activities there are government expenditures, accommodation and food services, outdoor recreation, healthcare and social assistance, and retail trade.
The mountains of central Arizona and New Mexico are part of the ancestral and reservation lands for a number of Native American Nations. Currently two tribal nations, the White Mountain Apache and the San Carlos Apache, manage nearly 12 per cent of the CANRA's land area, including wildlife and ecological systems.
It says reintroduction would replace a historic member of the species assemblage of the region. US government agents and private citizens hunted and poisoned the jaguar for most of the 20th century. As a result of persecution here and elsewhere, jaguars were listed under the US Endangered Species Act.
"This represents a turning point for this iconic wild cat, identifying a path forward for restoration of the jaguar to its historic range in the United States," said Sharon Wilcox Ph.D., Texas Representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "It should serve as the starting point for a renewed conversation among stakeholders."
"The Southwest's native wildlife evolved with jaguars," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. "They have a storied and vital place in our canyons and forests, so we should plan an intelligent and humane reintroduction program."
A new study published on Thursday revealed "massive concerns" about the long-term recovery of Australian forests from the devastating 2019-20 "Black Summer" bushfires.
The study, which was published by Australian National University (ANU) and Griffith University, warned that early signs of recovery from the fires could be deceiving, reports Xinhua news agency.
It found that the drought that preceded the 2019-20 bushfire season was so severe that it reduced forests' capacity for regrowth.
More than 18.6 million hectares of land, mostly on Australia's east coast, were burned by fires that raged for more than half a year.
"It's wonderful to see the green growth back in the forests," said co-author David Lindenmayer from ANU.
"But there are some underlying issues that are creating real problems and I have massive concerns about what we will see there in 20 years time."
"Our ecosystems have not been geared up to deal with the high frequency and severity of these disturbances. It's burning far too often now," he said.
"This century we've had three megafires (over 1 million hectares) on the east coast, in 2009, 2014 and 2020. But in the century before that there was one, and in the century before that we also just had one."
Forests in the northeast of Victoria and south of New South Wales (NSW) were hit hardest by the fires.
A forests' ability to recover from fires is largely dependent on big trees that produce a majority of seeds, pollen, flowers and nectar.
"There's a big risk now the wetter forests across huge swathes of Victoria and southern NSW won't be able to recover," Lindenmayer said.
The "Black Summer" fire season destroyed thousands of homes and claimed 33 lives, including nine firefighters.
Nearly 3 billion animals were also killed or displaced, and the fires harmed many threatened species and ecological communities.
Decision to give away 243 acres of Shivalik Elephant Reserve forest land for the expansion of Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun is a matter of grave concern, triggering a debate on development and environment
The Uttarakhand Government’s decision to give away 243 acres of Shivalik Elephant Reserve forest land for the expansion of Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun is a matter of serious concern which once again opens the debate on development and environment. The State Government, considering the development motives in terms of economic and technological growth, has taken the decision of using the forest land. The encroachment is predicted to harm a cluster of things, yet certain immediate observable damage can be cited like the loss of 10,000 trees which can’t be compensated, limiting the free movement of wild animals due to shrinkage of forest area. Moreover, the proposed, expanded airport will be under the 10 kilometres eco-sensitive zone of the Rajaji National Park.
Protesting against this decision, different polemics have been made, such as: Forest and wildlife are sources of revenue generation in the form of tourism and thus employment generation and this infringement will dismay the fragile ecosystem of Doon. Nonetheless, all these arguments seem to be repetitively ordinary and thus anthropocentric, on the account of human benefit. There is a need for deeper analysis, based on ethical concerns. Concerning the issue, the fundamental question needs to be raised at two different levels: How essential is to expand the airport and should environmentalists fight against this proposal for the well-being of humans or the well-being of the wilds or trees or for the entire environment itself?
On the first question, the necessity of the expansion of the airport in the name of development seems to be obscure. The Government’s developmental plans should encompass the views of native indigenous of the area where the plan is supposed to be executed. However, here this has been flouted. This leads to a further question on development for whom and at what cost? From a purely human-centric calculation cutting down of 10,000 trees doesn’t necessarily enhance the economic status of the local people. Moreover, one can imagine the level of pollution that would harm them in future because of the deforestation and so-called modernity. Often major invisible harm is disguised in minor visible benefit. A developmental plan of the rule of power is imposed following solely technocratic conditions that in turn lead to the agony of humans as well as animals. Thus, morality is brought to fight against the unjust planning. Humans, animals and plants become the victims of the development project and it is essential to ethically examine the means (plans) and ends (consequences) before processing to execute it. In doing so, the Government can get a path to develop a new way of governing through which universal welfare can be achieved.
The second-level question is underpinned on the protection of the environment. Defending the protest of local people let’s begin with invoking a stance of social ecologist in terms of “regional turn in environmental thinking” because as social ecologist L Mumford says a strong regional centre of culture can be “the basis of active and securely grounded local life”. The local life is a broader concept that includes humans, animals and plants, all of them create a niche to accommodate each other for their wellbeing. Thus, protesting at an individualistic level grounding on the ethical concern directing towards individuals only would not be beneficial because it precludes either one of them — humans or animals or trees. Further, if we fight against the Government’s decision to protect the forest for the wellbeing of humans, then the instrumental value is credited to the forest and thus the day is not far it to be used for a different purpose. Rejection of anthropocentric option paves a path to ascribe intrinsic value to the forest through which absolute protection of forest can be demanded. However, the ascription of intrinsic value is in question to whom it should be ascribed to individual animals or species/particular animal species or the entire ecosystem.
Supposed attribution of inherent value to individual animals precluding environment or to forest, excluding animals, leads to unpleasant consequences since both complement each other for their sustainability. Thus, there is a requirement for a holistic approach towards Doon’s valley to protect native indigenous and the forest. Implementation of an unexamined developmental project in the process of deforestation fails to satisfy all types of moral standards. Chopping thousands of trees and leaving innumerable animals homeless shows a lack of sense of “goodwill” and thus serves no adequate duties of humans towards the environment.
It also fails to bring an overall balance of good over evil — human suffering due to pollution and the scary behaviour of wild animals, as well as animals suffering due to the lack of food and dwelling place. Thus, this encroachment leads, in turn, to dire consequences. Furthermore, it prevents to show the virtuous character trait of the human. The conditions of flourishing human life are not necessarily limited within the intra-human species, it needs the ethical capability as well to consider the entire ecosystem as an end in itself.
Arguing in favour of destroying natural “wild”, which is not humanised, based on creating new forests through planting trees ignores the intrinsic value of natural wild which is unacceptable. Instead of being driven by the instrumental reason to achieve instant non-sacrosanct ends, we humans, including the Government, ought to do actions involving rules, rights, compassion, etc, to protect the environment, including ourselves.
(The writer is an Assistant Professor, Philosophy, Bengaluru Central University)
Under the Wildlife Institute of India-National Mission for Clean Ganga project ‘Planning and Management for Aquatic Species Conservation and Maintenance of Ecosystem Services in the Ganga River Basin for a clean Ganga’, Ganga River Dolphin Day was celebrated at six sites along the Ganga river namely, Bijnor, Brijghat, Prayagraj Varanasi, (Uttar Pradesh) Kahalgaon (Bihar) and Bandel (West Bengal). This is a joint venture of WII, NMCG and State Forest Departments, for sustainable tourism linking livelihood through dolphin conservation for ecotourism along the Ganga river. Every year 5th October is celebrated as Ganga River Dolphin Day as this day Ganga Dolphins were declared National Aquatic Animal.
On this occasion through a video message, Jal Shakti Minister, Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat congratulated the nation and informed that the population of Gagentic Dolphins has increased in recent years. He also appealed to the masses to join Dolphin conservation campaign while emphasizing the importance of biodiversity in rejuvenation of river Ganga.
The highlight of the celebration was the launch of the Ganga river Dolphin Jalaj Safaris by Shri. Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General National Mission for Clean Ganga at Bijnor Barrage, Muzaffarnagar district, Uttar Pradesh. Shri Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, pointed out that such initiatives will go a long way in making the people aware of the biodiversity of Ganga river and importance of conserving our National Aquatic Animal. At the same time, the initiative will link local livelihood with Ganga conservation.
The Ganga Praharis in all the sites have been trained in biodiversity based eco-tourism and will take the tourist on boat rides to view Dolphin and other biodiversity present in the Ganga River.
“My Ganga My Dolphin” campaign was flagged off by World Wildlife fund and Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in association with NMCG. In this campaign, Dolphin census will be conducted in 250 km stretch from Bijnore to Narora, many community awareness campaigns will be carried out and young volunteers will be encouraged to enroll as Ganga Mitras. This Dolphin Day was an occasion to revive over all biodiversity of Ganga and not just Dolphins, to bring focus to this Shri Rajiv Ranjan Mishra also released three turtles at Hyderpur wetland and felicitated Ganga Mitras who are part of the initiative. Since 2012, UP Forest Department and WWF-India have been engaging with communities for identifying and rescuing turtle nests from riparian farmland. There was also discussion about making an interpretation center at Hyderpur and make it a Ramsar site.
Also, A Turtle’s Day Out, a story by Jeevanesh Sawhney and illustrations by Malika Arora was launched by Mr. Mishra at the event.
There has been noticeable improvement in the Dolphin population in Ganga river especially in the stretch from Bijnore to Narora. Local volunteers reported seeing many Dolphins in Ballia district during recent cleanliness and awareness drive on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti. Namami Gange mission is taking major steps to improve biodiversity of Ganga and her tributaries.
The Commissioner, Saharanpur, Shri Sanjay Kumar and Dr. Ruchi Badola, Scientist and Nodal Officer, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun were also present at the event.
In the midst of the pandemic, let us not forget about a disaster called human-driven climate change
Silicon Valley, home of many of the world’s most valuable companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google, woke up to some truly apocalyptic scenes. The blue sky had been replaced by an orange haze as wildfires burnt down some of the oldest temperate forests in the world and the US state of California reeled from the worst of such disasters in its history. The fires are so intense that they have now covered the length of the state and are spreading into the north as well, making this late summer the worst blaze season ever recorded. California is not unique. Earlier this year, the south-east Australian seaboard, where three-quarters of that nation’s population resides, literally went up in flames. Thus, two of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate in San Francisco and the eponymous Sydney Harbour Bridge, were both photographed with an orange background just a few months apart, highlighting how man-made disasters are taking a toll on the planet.
Make no mistake, while wildfires are a seasonal occurrence and many happen thanks to natural events like lightning strikes, the severity this time was caused by human activity. The irony of the California fires being started after fireworks went awry at a baby “gender reveal party” should not be lost upon the parents. The fires, the destruction of wildlife and the associated dumping of carbon into the atmosphere mean that those parents have made the planet a much worse place for their children. No matter what your opinion is on Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the fact is that the girl does have a point. We are damaging the planet and despite efforts lasting several years, we are still damaging the planet, albeit slower than before but not by enough. Global climate change is real. There is less polar ice than ever before. The Himalayan glaciers that feed a tenth of all humanity are receding fast. The seasons are changing and extreme weather events are devastating parts of the world not just in terms of human lives but through livelihood loss. Yes, resolving the global Coronavirus pandemic should be humanity’s top priority today as should be preventing the next such pandemic from occurring. But we should not forget the clear and present danger that climate change continues to be for humankind. Our efforts towards lower emissions through renewables and less conspicuous consumption have to be made stronger. Else the next house being burnt down in a wildfire or drowned in a Biblical flood could well be yours.
A species checklist shows that fish, birds, amphibians and mammals have declined by 84 per cent since 1970
The Living Planet Report 2020 has set off warning bells about the state of the global environment, one that may impact our lives more severely than the pandemic. It seems that the price of our burgeoning population, unplanned and unthinking expansion, selfish consumerism, senseless overconsumption of natural resources and greed is being paid by different species that we are supposed to share the planet with. However, as compared to forest or marine species, it is the freshwater species that are at the highest risk because a gargantuan 85 per cent of the Earth’s wetlands are already lost. So fish, birds, amphibians and mammals have declined by a whopping 84 per cent globally since 1970, threatening one in three freshwater species with extinction. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London track the abundance of 20,811 populations representing 4,392 species based on a number of data sets available globally. But this edition has got to be their red alert finding. The report on India is pretty damning as the size of our wetlands has shrunk to 0.03 per cent of our total geographic area. Despite all the talk about protecting our water resources and raising awareness, nothing seems to have worked as the number of polluted river stretches went up to 351 in 2018 from 302 in 2016. As a result, there has been a decline in the population of endangered species such as the Gangetic dolphin.
Worryingly, there is a 94 per cent fall in the species survivability index in Latin America and the Caribbean, which, like us, are facing fragmentation by hydropower projects and abstraction of water. There has been a 45 per cent species decline in Asia and Australia. It is high time we begin taking our responsibility towards the environment seriously, if not for the sake of the creatures we are supposed to share it with but for our own selfish selves. Because we may force the hapless species that inhabit this Earth into a corner because of our careless actions but in the end we will have to pay with our lives too. Water, essential for life, will become scarcer if we continue to destroy our riverine systems, wetlands and oceans. As it is we have become a water-stressed world. As more species become extinct, we will face scarcity of food from animal sources and zoonotic diseases like the present Coronavirus and pandemics will become more frequent, killing millions of us each year while destroying the world economy. So it is up to us to decide if we want to continue on this path of self-destruction.
Yet another savage outcome of human-elephant conflict in Kerala must propel us to get our act together. If not, animals will perish along with the environment
The murder of a pregnant elephant, which died in the Velliyar river in Kerala’s Mannarkkad forest division in Palakkad district on May 27, must rank among the cruellest killings of animals ever. According to the post-mortem report, the immediate cause of her death was drowning. Before that, she could not eat or drink for nearly 14 days following an explosion in her mouth that inflicted major, incapacitating wounds in the oral cavity. “This”, the report reads, “resulted in excruciating pain and distress in the region and prevented the animal from taking food and water for nearly two weeks. Severe debility and weakness, in turn, resulted in a final collapse in water that led to drowning.”
According to Kumar Chellappan’s report in The Pioneer of June 6, the elephant was injured as she tried to eat a coconut that had been stuffed with explosives to kill wild boars that ate up crops. The report further stated that the police had arrested P Wilson, a tapper in a rubber plantation, the previous day and were looking for the plantation’s owners, Abdul Kareem and his son Riyazuddin, and had charged all three of them under various sections of the Kerala Forest Act and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Wilson has reportedly admitted that he had filled a coconut with explosives and placed it in the plantation to kill wild boars that regularly devoured/destroyed crops. According to reports, Wilson, following interrogation, had taken police and forest department officials to a shed inside the plantation, where the explosives had been worked on, and some remnants were found. In the event, instead of a wild boar, an elephant bit into the fruit.
A word of caution. Before bursting into a round of applause for the police, one should remember that the accused are yet to be convicted and adequately sentenced. Since Indian elephants (Elephas maximus) feature in Part I (mammals), Schedule I, of the Wildlife Protection Act, their hunting “in a sanctuary or a national park” can lead to imprisonment of up to seven years and a “fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees.”
The award of the maximum punishment will depend on successful prosecution in courts, which, in turn, would depend on convincingly marshalling and weaving evidence into unfolding arguments. This implies thorough investigation and reflection thereon. This aspect needs to be emphasised as the Kerala Government’s and local bodies’ record in protecting animals and bringing their murderers and tormentors to book is by no means exemplary. In some cases, they are guilty of condoning or even sanctioning killing.
In fact, one wonders whether the Kerala Government would have ordered an investigation into the present case and made the kind of serious efforts it has to arrest the culprits, had the media not taken it up so strongly and waves of shock and anger not swept the country. Another female elephant had died in April in the Pathanapuram forest range area under Punalur division in Kollam district after trying to eat an explosive-laden fruit. It was, according to forest officers, treated adequately but in vain. The incident did not find any coverage in the national media until anger exploded over the pregnant elephant’s murder and was only mentioned in passing in a couple of reports even after that. An investigation has been ordered but nothing like the efforts made following the death of the pregnant elephant has been launched.
Poaching is rampant in the area. According to a report by Vinod Mathew in The Print (datelined June 5), 24 wild elephants have died of unnatural causes like poaching in the last five years in Kerala. If the Government was serious about stamping out the menace, it would have made recognisably determined efforts to bring the guilty to book in every case of elephant killing like the one in April. Besides, a telling commentary on the state of affairs in Kerala is the almost casual mention in several post-Palakkad death media reports that the explosive-laden coconut that killed the elephant was targetted at wild boars destroying crops.
Two points need to be made here. First, such savage killing of no animal can be justified. Second, the Kerala Government had permitted the killing of wild boars in May. The Print report cited above quotes Dr Asha Thomas, Additional Chief Secretary, Forest and Wildlife, Kerala Government, as saying, “There have been periodic demands from farmers that they be allowed to protect their crop and given the right to shoot wild boars. About a month ago, a Government order was issued that allowed the shooting of wild boars, subject to a number of clauses.” The clauses, according to her, included “certification by the local authorities that an area is suffering crop loss on account of sustained attack by wild boars and so on.” She added, “And once the permission is granted, only someone from an empanelled group of licenced firearm owners would be allowed to shoot. So far we have had only one such case.”
P Wilson, who allegedly stuffed explosives in the coconut that killed the pregnant elephant, as well as the two other accused in the case, Abdul Kareem and Riyazuddin, had, if the allegations against them are correct, either not heard about the conditions governing the killing of wild boars or thought these could be ignored with impunity. One needs hardly to be surprised if the latter has been the case. According to a report in the NDTV (June 5) by Sneha Mary Koshy (edited by Deepshikha Ghosh), villagers in the region often used firecrackers or explosives stuffed in food to protect their fields from wild animals like boar and the horrific practice had been widely condemned. Obviously, however, such condemnation had not led to deterrent punishments of the kind that would have halted the three accused in their tracks.
It is certainly important to protect crops. The need to do so, however, can also be cited as an excuse. A report by Adam Withnall in The Independent of the United Kingdom datelined June 5 quotes Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of the NGO Wildlife SOS, as saying that farmers continued to use “crude and inhumane” methods like fruit bombs “on the pretext of crop protection… despite crop compensation schemes available from the forest department”. According to a report by Shaji Phillips in The Indian Express of June 6, the Mannarkkad range forest officer, Ashique Ali U, in charge of probing the Palakkad killing case, said that the accused were in the habit of hunting wild animals and selling their meat. This, if true, would junk any claim that they were trying to protect their crops.
There are multiple reasons for growing elephant-human conflict. In many cases, humans are guilty of wanton provocation. This is clear from a report, datelined May 18, 2019, by Birdie Witten in the Mirror, the United Kingdom, which was brought to the notice of this writer by Sonia Jabbar, who runs a successful elephant conservation programme in North Bengal. The report is about a mother elephant, which had given birth near the dry bed of a lake, trying to get her newborn baby to stand, while a crowd of villagers watched and took photographs. Increasingly indicating her irritation through movements, she finally charged at the crowd as the latter started throwing stones at her and killed a 27-year-old man. Ten other elephants appeared in the area shortly afterwards, causing panic.
This incident happened in West Bengal. Kerala is not the only State where elephants are maltreated. In the last couple of days, three elephants were apparently poisoned to death in Chhattisgrah. Such crimes are becoming increasingly frequent throughout the country because human encroachment into animal habitats is growing, thanks to a swelling population. It is not just new farms and human settlements but the entire range of projects — roads, rail tracks, power transmission lines, mines, industrial plants — undertaken in the name of a skewed concept of development catering to advertisement-driven compulsive consumption. Animals will perish and the environment ruined if the process continues unreformed. Finally, with their supportive linkages of life forms gone, humans will face extinction.
(Writer: Hiranmay Karlekar; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Wildlife parks across India have been told to keep a close watch on tiger clusters and report any abnormal behaviour
As if the human dimension of the crisis was not enough, turns out the zoonotic Coronavirus is now affecting the animal world and is jumping from its human host. Sometime ago, Hong Kong had reported the case of a dog owner passing on the virus to his pet which died. But reports were contradictory, claiming that the dog could have also died of old age. Be that as it may, the virus strain, which has been traced genetically to a pangolin at a wildlife market in China, is now jumping from humans to other animals. Following reports that a tiger at Bronx Zoo in New York tested COVID-19 positive because of his asymptomatic handler, India, too, has kept its zoos, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves on the “highest” alert, asking authorities to watch the big cats on a 24x7 basis for any abnormal behaviour and take “immediate preventive measures to stop transmission and spread of the virus from human to animals and vice versa.” With 2,967 tigers, India is currently home to 75 per cent of the global tiger population. Of course, the national lockdown has meant that there is no tourist traffic at our sanctuaries but forest and zoo staff would have to be particularly careful about not spreading the virus in case one among them is remotely affected. Just two days ago, there were reports of how inmates of the Delhi zoo were feeling spirited and free without human spectators. Reports have come in of how penguins had been let loose to meet their other aquatic friends at a US water park. Perhaps, this is a reminder for us that we need to leave the animals in the wild as our proximity to them now is threatening their existence. In fact, the rapid inter-species jump of the virus in such a short time indicates how lethal it can become in threatening existence as we knew it.
This news has predictably sent alarm bells ringing across the globe, especially among pet owners, wondering if they should stay away from their furry friends in case of an infection. The standard distancing protocols hold good for animals as well. But then there is another fear of pets getting infected somehow externally and transmitting the virus to their owners, which has already resulted in a lot of pet abandonment in the US. The Bronx zoo went so far as to say that there is “no evidence that animals play a role in the transmission of COVID-19 to people other than the initial event in the Wuhan market, and no evidence that any person has been infected with COVID-19 in the US by animals, including by pet dogs or cats.” The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has also claimed that there is no evidence of a pet anywhere in the world transmitting COVID-19 to a person, a fact corroborated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), too. The outbreaks happening now are the result of people passing the virus to one another. Also, various pets have reacted differently to an infection of their owners. Turns out it was in Hong Kong again that one pet was infected by his owner but another dog living in the same home didn’t. More pet cats have been affected though. In fact, they might be more susceptible to COVID-19 than dogs, according to one study conducted in China. As part of experiments, researchers placed infected domestic cats next to cats that were not infected. The researchers later found that one of the previously healthy cats caught the virus after being near the infected felines, most likely through respiratory droplets. Dogs in the study, on the other hand, seemed to be more resistant to the virus and did not pass it to one another. There was no evidence that the cats shed enough of the virus to give it to people. But the study has not been reviewed and had a very limited sample size. Besides, they were given high doses of the virus and all the human-transmitted cases of pets have shown a weakened strain. These are not real life scenarios, according to virologists. At the moment, it is only us who are posing a threat to the animal world. Looks like the animals we claimed and confined on our terms need to be freed from ourselves.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)