Ecology

World Environment Day: As deaths due to COVID-19 rise, experts in Kashmir say environment is healing

Representative Image.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take lives across the globe, reports suggest that the environment is healing due to reduced human activity.

Photographs showing wild animals appearing on streets, and clear skies, are making rounds on the social media. Due to reduced traffic noise, one can hear birds chirping and breathe in the fresh air.

India’s capital New Delhi has reached the ‘satisfactory’ category after its Air Quality Index reduced to 82 from 161 after the lockdown.

According to various reports, the month of May, which typically records peak carbon emissions due to leaf decomposition, recorded the minimum levels of pollutants in the air, after the 2008 financial crisis.

The industries and human activities that affect the environment have been forced shut. However, in Kashmir, lockdowns are not new. According to environmentalists, during all the past lockdowns including 2016 uprising in the conflict-ridden zone, various aspects of the environment improved drastically.

The environment is getting better in the valley, despite the fact that the Coronavirus cases have risen and more people are dying.

In an online discussion, a day before the World Environment Day, Dean Research at University of Kashmir (KU) Prof. Shakeel Ahmad Ramsoo said that the online real-time monitoring sensors at the varsity suggest that the values of particulate matter, black carbon concentration, Methane, Carbon dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrous oxide and the ozone layer have drastically improved amid the lockdown from March 20 to June 3.

According to Ramsoo, the reason behind the change is the fact that the few industries in Kashmir have come to a halt, the vehicular traffic has reduced and the construction has stopped.

He also said that the Industrial estates produce waste: liquid, solid, gaseous which directly affect the environment which will eventually cost the world more than it is gaining economically right now.

“If the environment suffers, eventually our medical bills will cost us billions,” he said. Ramsoo also said that every time there was a lockdown in Kashmir, data reveals that the environment had gotten better.

“The data from March 20 till June 3 was compared with the data of the past 5 years and it was concluded that lockdowns may or may not have helped the people but they have helped the environment. In 2016, the air quality had improved. Likewise, this time, human activities have significantly reduced. And various aspects of the environment show drastic improvement in quality,” he said.

Speaking about the ecological imbalance and increase in pollution in eco-fragile zones of the valley, caused by the loot of green gold amid the lockdown, he said, “it is not happening for the first time. If we look at that past 30 years, since 1988, whenever administrative machinery was affected in Kashmir due to a number of reasons, everyone started plundering forest resources.”

While the administration is busy with tackling the deadly virus, many have taken advantage of the situation and disrupted the ecological balance. As per Ramsoo, the main reason behind the loot is the lack of a sense of conservation and commitment towards the environment.

“On every World Environment Day, so many lectures are given to protect the environment. However, we as a community and as a government have failed. We have not been able to take care of the environment,” he said. Trying to clear his point, he also gave an example of urban planning in Srinagar city. “In south Srinagar, around 20 posh colonies have been constructed on the water bodies and wetlands. And the colonies have been recognized by the government!”

There is a lack of an environmental policy in the valley. Ramsoo suggests that the administration should take a lesson from the data and information generated during the pandemic.

“This period provided us with crucial data, information and research. If the administration really wants to make informed decisions, they should consider these,” he said adding that people only talk about the environment at the time of crisis. Briefing about the policies in the place he said that for the past 3 years only a draft of environmental policy has been framed.

“In many parts of South-Asia and even in Kashmir, only a draft on environment policy exists. It has been 3 years and it is yet to become a policy. Even the policies that are in place, they are in conflict with each other. The Water Resources Act, Forest Conservation Act, Agriculture and Horticulture policies; they are all in conflict with each other. Due to this people easily violate the law.”

Moreover, he said, the tourism spaces promoted by the government have Development Authorities but no Master plan that is necessary for an eco-friendly development. “Because of the political, security or administrative situation here, there is laxity on certain aspects that have led to vandalization of our very important natural resources. The COVID-19 situation has a lot to teach including the low-cost strategy,” he said inferring that the authorities should learn the lessons COVID-19 taught the world and implement the much-required changes.

While the environment is healing on one level, new challenges have been thrown up because of the current pandemic. In a report published by a global business and financial news organization, Bloomberg Green, medical waste production has increased.

“Hospitals in Wuhan produced an average of over 200 tons of such waste per day during the outbreak, up from its previous average of fewer than 50 tons,” reads the report.

The fact may be just as true for J&K.

 

Marouf Gazi is a Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) 2019 fellow and a senior staffer at Free Press Kashmir.

 

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