This Article on “Positive & Negative Impacts of COVID-19 on the Environment” is written by Manali Agrawal, a BA.LLB.(Hons.) student of Jagran Lakecity Univeristy, Bhopal.
The Corona Virus Pandemic has changed the world only in a period of a few months. Globally, as of 5:08 pm CEST, 29 September 2020, there have been 33,249,563 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,000,040 deaths reported to WHO. And the life of the other people who are not infected by the virus has also been changed due to the pandemic. This virus is spreading exponentially region wise. It has affected business units, disrupted the world trade, and restricted the movements of the people. The medical supply chain has been disrupted and has caused a burden on the doctors as well as the entire existing medical system. The pandemic has also affected the education of the students worldwide as they could not go to their respective educational institutions and timely and fair examination could not be held. This virus creates significant knock-on effects on the daily life of citizens, as well as about the global economy. It caused undue stress among the population.
However, along with the above mentioned harmful impacts, the current pandemic and the resultant lockdown has proved to be beneficial from the environmental perspective. Due to the restricted human interaction with nature, the crisis has emerged as a blessing for nature as well as the environment. It is apparent that after the outbreak of COVID-19, environmental conditions including air quality and water quality in rivers are improving and wildlife is blooming. The level of pollution has decreased considerably all over the world. India has always been a hub of pollution with a huge population, heavy traffics, and polluting industries leading to high air quality index (AQI) values in all major cities. But after the declaration of lockdown due to COVID-19, the quality of air has started to improve and all other environmental parameters such as water quality in rivers have started giving a positive sign towards restoring.
These are some positive impacts of the virus. But these positive changes in the environment are only for a short or medium period of time and it will get back to its usual state as soon s the pandemic is over and humans start to interact with nature. Also, there is a negative side of this aspect too which is indirect. The Outbreak of the Corona Virus has to lead to increased waste and the reduction of the recycling process. There are serious dismissals and discontinuities in the energy sector. It has lead to the increased use of single-use plastics as well as other kinds of wastes like medical waste, electronic waste, and other organic and inorganic wastes. Therefore, countries need to demonstrate very serious environmental incentives. The current pandemic situation has taught us to respect nature and take initiatives to protect our mother earth.
Right to Environment & The Constitution in India
Originally, the Constitution of India, 1950 did not have any specific provision related to environmental protection and there was no such right called Right to Environment. It may because of the fact that framers of the India Constitution could not predict the acute environment-related problems that started to develop after a few decades of the making of the India Constitution. However, after some years, the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment), 1976 was adopted by which certain provisions relating to the environment protection were incorporated as DPSP under Article 48A in Part-IV, as a Fundamental Duty under Article 51A in Part IV-A, and in the Concurrent list under Article 246 in Schedule VII (list item no.17,17A and 17B) of the Indian Constitution.
The second major development related to the Right to Environment has been to recognize the Right to Environment as a Fundamental Right under Article 21. It has been recognized by the Supreme Court of India that the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes the Right to a pollution-free environment through various remarkable judicial pronouncements.
The case of Charan Lal Sahuwas the first time when the Supreme Court interpreted the Right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution to include the right to a wholesome environment. In the case of Subhash Kumar, the apex court reaffirmed that ‘Right to Life includes the Right to Pollution free water and air for full enjoyment of life. If anything endangers or impairs that quality of life in derogation of laws a citizen has recourse to Article 32 of the Constitution for removing the pollution of water or air which may be detrimental to life. The Court has stated that Article 21 includes ‘the enjoyment of pollutant-free water and air for full enjoyment of life.’
The Right to Environment has been recognized in a number of cases since then as a Fundamental Right under Article 21 by the Indian Judiciary. Thus, if any person’s Right to Environment is violated, he or she can directly approach the Supreme Court and High Courts under Article 32 and Article 226 of the Indian Constitution respectively.
Positive Impacts of COVID-19 on the Environment
Before the Corona Virus crises, the air had been very toxic to breathe due to the presence of greenhouse gases in the air and global warming was increasing like never before and was paving the way to the melting of glaciers and the rising sea levels. Resources like air, water, and soil were getting depleted at a high pace. But the coronavirus and the resultant lockdown had a dramatic impact on the environment. The lockdown has lead to the closure of factories, shops, markets, places of worship, etc. Public transport is also suspended and construction activities are restricted. Due to these restrictions, the environment had benefitted immensely and thus it is being considered as a God sent for the environment.
Due to the Corona Virus outbreak, people are avoiding activities like traveling, public transports like trains, and flights have been restricted by the government. Industrial units and factories are also closed down. This has led to the improvement of Air Quality and helped to drop air pollution significantly. The pollution situation in the capital city of India, Delhi was very well in the news just before the Coronavirus. The India Gate was not visible to the people due to smog and the air was not good enough to breathe. A pause in the Capital city of India because of the COVID-19 has led the smog to give way to blue skies. Marine life is seeing increased activity, pollution levels reduced and the wildlife moving around of their own volition.
Since there were no boats and because of the lesser human interference, the rivers, streams, and waterways have cleared up. The oceans are recovering and the marine life is thriving. In areas like Venice, the water became so clear that the fish could be seen and there was better water flow. Apart from that, animals are being spotted moving freely because of the lesser human footfall. Also, Plants are growing better because there are cleaner air and water, and again because there is no human interference. With everything at a standstill, plants are allowed to thrive and grow and produce more coverage and oxygen. Less litter also means lesser clogging of river systems, which is good in the long run for the environment.
In conclusion, though there has been a positive impact on the environment due to the lockdown, there is fear that once people start travelling again or go back to doing what they have been doing, all the positive impact will also disappear.
Positive Impacts of COVID-19 on the Environment
But not all the impacts of COVID-19 on the environment have been positive. Some negative impacts of it have also been there. For example, According to ABRELPE, it is estimated that because of the adopted quarantine, isolation, and social distancing it can have a relevant increase in the generated quantity of domestic solid waste (15-25%) and a considerable growing in the generation of hospital waste in health care units (10 to 20 times). The major threat is of increasing medical wastes. The daily output of medical waste reached 240 metric tons, about the weight of an adult blue whale. Due to the increased use of masks, gloves, PPE kits, and other protective equipment, there can be a situation of waste emergency and to avoid this situation we need to take steps for the proper disposal of such wastes.
The local waste problem is also emerging as the governments have suspended the functioning of the recycling units due to the fear of the spread of the virus. Also, the use of Single-use Plastics has also been increased by retailers due to the same reason. Suspended export activities have caused the mounting of organic waste levels substantially as the produced output is too large to be absorbed in local markets. This is also causing a sharp rise in the levels of methane emissions and other greenhouse gases.
There is also a risk to the Natural ecosystems and the protected species during the crises. In many countries, environmental protection workers at national parks and land and marine conservation zones are required to stay at home in lockdown, leaving these areas unmonitored. Their absence has resulted in a rise in illegal deforestation, fishing, and wildlife hunting. Restricted eco-tourism activities are leading the natural ecosystem to the risk of illegal harvesting and encroachment.
In conclusion, it can be said that COVID-19 has changed the life of the people today and the generations to come. It is increasing every day. It had impacted the people socially, economically, and also physically. However, its impact on the environment cannot be ignored and requires mass attention. There are both, positive as well as negative impacts caused by the COVID-19 on the planet. However, most of the positive changes in the environment will gradually return to their usual position after the pandemic is over and the humans start to interact with nature. However, the negative impacts of it are such that are of long term and could not be restored easily. Thus there is an urgent need to take stringent steps by the governments as well as the people at large in order to neutralize the overall effects of COVID-19 on the environment. The pandemic has taught us the importance of the environment and the need to protect it. Thus, attention must be paid to mitigate the negative impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic.
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