The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our lives in a matter of a few months. Millions have fallen sick from the novel coronavirus outbreak and hundreds of thousands of people have already succumbed from the disease since December 2019. Our entire way of living has been turned upside down by this virus.
To halt the spread of the pandemic, a majority of countries imposed the most stringent travel restrictions since World War. Some countries are now gradually transitioning from total lockdown to limited unlocking.
Decreased economic activity due to lockdowns in most parts of the world has had far-reaching effects in a span of just two months.
The quality of water in the Delhi stretch of the Yamuna has improved due to a complete reduction in industrial pollutants in the river during the lockdown.
For the first time in almost 30 years, people in the city of Jalandhar could clearly see the Himalayas due to a reduction in air pollution as emissions from industries fell drastically.
Elsewhere too the coronavirus pandemic has had several positive effects on the environment. The canals of Venice turned crystal clear while there were dramatic falls in pollution levels in major world cities.
Some of the positive impacts of COVID-19 on the environment are:
Improvement in air quality
Air quality has a direct influence on people’s health, however, more than 90% of the world population dwells in a place where the air quality is degraded. According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2016, nearly 8% of the total deaths occurring globally are accounted for due to air pollution. The countries affected most by this crisis are in Asia, Africa, and some parts of Europe.
Because of the lockdowns and traffic restrictions, nitrogen dioxide levels fell by 12.9 μg/m3 and 22.8 μg/m3 in China and Wuhan, respectively. PM 2.5 fell by 1.4 μg/m3 in Wuhan but in 367 cities, it decreased by 18.9 μg/m3. Besides, a significant reduction in nitrogen dioxide concentrations has been observed over Paris, Madrid, and Rome from the readings obtained through the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite.
In May 2014, New Delhi, India’s national capital was ranked as the most polluted city in the globe by the WHO. The usual air quality index (AQI) of this region used to be 200 and sometimes above 900 when the pollution would hit its peak. However, as the millions of automobiles were taken off the roads and industrial and construction work was brought to a halt, AQI levels below 20 have been routinely registered.
Beaches are one of the important national capital assets for so many countries. However, beaches have witnessed a lot of exploitation over the years. The physical or social distancing, however, caused many beaches to remain deserted for a very long period and the silver lining has been cleaner surroundings and crystal clear water. Famous tourist beaches like those of Salinas (Ecuador), Barcelona (Spain), and Acapulco (Mexico) have never been pristine clear.
The steep reduction in environmental noise level
The environmental noise is an unsolicited sound that is generated by commercial and industrial activities and vehicular traffic. Due to the recent lockdowns owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, the use of public and private transportation decreased sharply and industries have also been shut for a very long period. All these have contributed to a considerable dip in noise pollution in most of the countries across the globe.
The downside of online shopping
Because of lockdowns in the majority of countries, consumers have now resorted to online shopping. This has, unfortunately, led to an increase in the generation of inorganic waste by a lot of households. On the other hand, online food purchasing has increased organic waste. The medical waste is also on a rise because of the increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks.
The bottom line
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched each one of us and it is sure to leave an indelible mark in our minds. It has made us ponder that when we humans pause for a while, restoration of the environment is conceivable, however, the management of negative consequences must also be considered by the individuals, governments, and the policymakers. Maybe it is time we started reflecting on our actions, learn from our mistakes and on this World Environment Day, take a pledge to play our part in restoring our flora and fauna, in whatever small way we can.