Climate Change and Covid-19 Pandemic

Climate projections suggest heterogeneous impacts on J&K with more intense rainfall and flood risks in some regions
Climate Change and Covid-19 Pandemic
COVID testing at TRC in Srinagar. GK File Photo/ Aman Farooq

Climate change is of serious concern to J&K due to its fragile ecosystem with a rugged terrain vulnerable to climate variations. For undertaking economic growth aimed at poverty reduction, this sometimes creates an undue pressure on the environment to add connectivity, tourism, infrastructure development etc.

To achieve a balance between development and environment requires diplomacy to address the common causes, for example warm air circulation in Tibet plateau caused due to destruction of environment and warming of Indus water leading to GLOF can damage the hydrology of the region which can lead to irreversible damage to the contiguous ecosystem. This makes climate change action planning even more challenging in case of J&K.

Climate projections suggest varied and heterogeneous impacts on J&K with more intense rainfall and flood risks in some regions , while others with sparser rainfall and droughts with spatial shift in the pattern of rainfall.

The Fifth Assessment Report says the loss of ice from glacial range and extents are out of balance with current climatic condition indicating that glaciers will continue to shrink in the future even without further temperature increase. This will have a significant impact on the Himalayan ecosystem of Jammu and Kashmir. The rate of recession of glaciers is reportedly varying which is being attributed to winter precipitation, climate warming and anthropogenic elements.

The segregation and scientific disposal and waste to energy transformation (municipal waste) is still a distant dream for us. The main reason I feel, is the lack of proper projection through formulation of unscientific proposals. The bio-medical wastes along with the current Covid -19 Pandemic wastes needs to go to a hazardous waste treatment facility for scientific disposal.

Pollution emission from vehicles & dust particles cause allergies which are increasing due to pollen and mould spores in the environment. Elevated level of mould spores carried by air currents poses significant threat to the respiratory system can lead to cardiovascular diseases, asthma, tuberculosis, besides loss of vision and even death.

As per UNEP report some parts of J&K are moderate to high vulnerability areas. As per INCCA the number of rainy days in the Himalayan region in 2030s may increase by 5-10 days on an average, with an increase by more than 15 days in the eastern part of the Jammu and Kashmir region. The intensity of rain fall is likely to increase by 1-2 mm/ day. This is likely to impact some of the horticultural crops.

In rural areas of J&K , wood, charcoal, dung cakes, straw etc. are used as fuels for cooking purpose. The emission of smoke causes tuberculosis, asthma, COPD and other respiratory diseases and studies have shown that COPD is very common in Kashmir. Women and children are most vulnerable.

These climatic changes will have an impact on health of the populace. The health sector is highly vulnerable and local climatic conditions majorly influence health issues in J&K. The annual rainfall in J&K has increased above average except Udhampur.

The vulnerability of J&K towards vector borne diseases is high due to increase in temperature that multiplies the reproduction rate of the carriers. The temperature in Kashmir has risen by 1.45o C and 2.32o C in Jammu over last two decades. The temperature variation in Kashmir during this month of the year is a testimony to the changing weather pattern and climate.

In winter season, cold wave poses threat to human lives. The infants are highly vulnerable to the cold wave on direct exposure. In 2012, more than 400 infants died due to cold wave. But the situation has been tamed with immediate steps including augmenting manpower especially para-medicals, nurses and other staffs for neonatology.

The serious issue confronting us is lack of data base on environmental parameters in J&K. We need to create a MIS on vector borne, water borne and zoonotic diseases according to classification and reason of occurrence and to deal with new diseases from emigrants like H1N1, Covid Sars etc.

In 2015, all United Nations Member States adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for a shared pathway for peace and prosperity. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), include ending poverty and calls to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

COVID-19 is spreading human suffering, destabilizing the global economy and upending the lives of billions of people around the globe. It is a wakeup call, providing watershed moment for health emergency preparedness and for investment in critical 21st century public services. The collision of this pandemic with a series of recent extreme weather events has amplified this call that climate change and disease spread has a link

The alarm bells have been ringing for a while. SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] in 2002; H1N1 [swine flu] in 2009; MERS [Middle East respiratory syndrome] in 2012; and now, along with COVID-19, there are reports of a “new emerging flu strain” being found in Chinese pigs.

The growing evidence that many of the human activities contributing to climate change are also contributing not only to the emergence of new diseases but also to their spread. The recent evidence of man animal conflict and the mauling of a 6 yr old kid at Budgam is a painful memory which has opened a debate among scientific community.

The coronavirus pandemic created an initial drop in greenhouse gas emissions due to staying indoors but PM 2.5 levels did not lower due to forest fires. As soon as COVID restrictions ended emission level climbed.

We don’t have direct evidence that climate change is influencing the spread of COVID-19, but we do know that climate change alters how we relate to other species on Earth and that matters to our health and our risk for infections.

As the planet heats up, animals, big and small, on land or in water, are headed to the poles to get out of the heat. That means animals are coming into contact with other animals they normally wouldn’t, and that creates an opportunity for pathogens to get into new hosts. Deforestation, is the largest cause of habitat loss which forces animals to migrate and potentially contact other animals or people and share germs. Large livestock farms can also serve as a source for spill over of infections from animals to people. We have massive concentration of domesticated animals and some can be home to pathogens, like flu.With fewer places to live and fewer food sources to feed on, animals find food and shelter where people are, and that can lead to disease spread.

We also have massive concentration of people in cities where diseases transmitted by sneezing may find fertile ground compounded with our ability to travel around the globe in less than a day and share germs widely.

This leads us to deduce that the support to resuscitate the economy after the pandemic should promote health, equity, and environmental protection. we can make our workforce healthier and more climate-resilient through scaling-up our investments in low-carbon technologies.

The separation of health and environmental policy is ​dangerous as the health, climate and organism present on this planet have an interlinkage.

Infectious diseases are personal. They radically and rapidly change the life style and is changing individual behaviour and social attitudes.

Climate change seems to many an Armageddon in slow motion and its dangers can feel impersonal and its causes diffuse. It’s easy to think “I didn’t cause this” or that “it doesn’t directly affect me.” But there’s another way to look at it. Like COVID-19, if you’re concerned about climate change, you can take actions right now to improve your health and the health of your friends and loved ones.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change do not immediately appear similar, upon closer inspection a number of significant shared factors are revealed. Both crises are attributed to substantial unnecessary loss of life.

COVID-19 is known to impact all age groups and climate change affects air quality, drinking water, food supply and shelter - all factors that are associated with health.

Finally, both crises have pushed regional healthcare systems around the world to the limit. Climate change and COVID-19 have resulted in large numbers of people being hospitalized, forcing countries to reassess how they manage their healthcare systems.

Experts have proposed that aligning government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change would allow for the overall improvement of public health, as well as foster a sustainable economic future worldwide. In addition, aligning responses offers a chance to protect the planet’s biodiversity and limit further changes to diverse ecosystems.

Over the coming years, we will likely see more strategies implemented to amend human behavior so that it has less impact on the environment, and, consequently on the spread of infectious diseases.

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