Pandemics and sustainable development
Clearly, something is wrong with our planet. There are always those who doubt the alarm bells being sounded about the deterioration of the environment and loss of natural ecosystems. They brand conservation advocates as radicals who care more for plants and animals than for economic development.
The outbreak of COVID-19 is a rude wake-up call. An expanding body of research and anecdotal evidence from the field reveal the interconnectedness of what we do with our natural ecosystems and the rise of pandemics. For instance, Lorentzen and coworkers (2020), in an article for the Danish Medical Journal, observed that pandemics and epidemics are becoming more frequent since the 1960s. They attribute this trend to the “complex connections between virology, biodiversity, climate changes, poverty, food safety and population growth.”
As humans destroy forests and other natural ecosystems, we are upsetting the natural balance that keeps extreme events from occurring. When we untangle the intricate web of interrelationships in nature, things go awry. For example, in our country, the loss of forests in our watersheds leads to erratic water supply and flooding in downstream areas.
On a broader scale, the rise of pandemics, coupled with planetary-scale changes, could disrupt our aspiration to attain sustainable development. Di Marco and coauthors (2020), in their paper published at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, highlighted how pandemics and environmental change are putting at risk our pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Asian Development Bank estimates that the global economy could lose up to $9 trillion because of the pandemic. The Philippine economy could contract by 4 percent this year. Whatever the exact numbers turn out to be, the pandemic will torpedo developmental targets this year and possibly beyond.
At the same time, as we seek to control and recover from the pandemic, there is an ample opportunity to do so in a way that addresses vulnerabilities to other environmental risks. Since planetary systems are interconnected, investments in COVID-19 response must take into account overall resilience to different environmental challenges. For example, lifestyle changes must consider greater adaptation to climate risks and greenhouse gas mitigation as well.
COVID-19 has brought humanity to its knees. I am hopeful that a cure will eventually be found by the world’s leading scientists. In the meantime, we should reflect on the broader lessons it is teaching us. Failure to do so may become an even greater tragedy.
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Dr. Rodel D. Lasco is a member of the National Panel of Technical Experts of the Climate Change Commission. He is the executive director of The OML Center, a foundation devoted to discovering climate change adaptation solutions (www.omlopezcenter.org).
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