The ongoing pandemic has jolted almost everyone sitting in various corners of the world. It has been over six months for us in India that our lives changed suddenly. Lockdowns and curfews were imposed closing all the workplaces and educational institutes. Other important guidelines for physical distancing and maintaining hygiene were issued by the government to help slow down the fatal chain reaction of this respiratory virus that is mostly spread through human contact.
Undoubtedly, these impositions were pivotal for curbing the viral spread. But this is also a well-known fact that the pandemic has impacted adversely almost everyone socially, economically or psychologically. We are aware of the economy plummeting, our country’s GDP contracting by 23% in the last quarter, many losing their jobs, increased cases of domestic violence, corona patients as well as health warriors being harassed by society, people with other ailments being ignored and denied health services, restrictions on travel, not being able to meet the family on the loss of a loved one to count a few. Many of us have faced this agony in one way or another. But has there been anything good that this pandemic has given us?
What we lost cannot be revived or retrieved. Still, some positive trends in these dark times were observed. Increased agricultural cultivation and some signs of the revival of the environmental health are the positive fingerprints of the pandemic.
Spurt in Fields
Rice is the main kharif crop, besides bajra, arhar, urad, moong, groundnut and soyabean. These are sown in the summer and are irrigated by the following monsoon. Recent reports from the Agricultural Ministry stated that the total area under rice cultivation and other crops increased 21% to almost 700 lakh hectare so far in the current season. There is an impressive spike in the cultivation of vegetables as well.
The spurt in the fields of olericulture, horticulture and agriculture is linked to the migration of thousands of people back to their home States. With the lockdown being imposed, many big and small businesses got impacted, hitting its dependents. The most affected were migrants from small towns of different States who had come to bigger cities in pursuit of livelihood and better future.
With no means of survival, they were forced to go back to their homes. As per a report, 67 lakh migrants had returned to six States by June. Agriculture is, indeed, very time and labour intensive. Most of the migrants had familial landholdings. With increased manpower and more hands to work, many abandoned fields got the chance to revive.
People have made full use of their available resources by going back to farming, restoring the fact that agriculture is the most critical and pious activity that not only feeds oneself but others as well. Returning to their homes amidst the lockdown had distressed people, but it undoubtedly created opportunities for farming and is leading to increased agricultural produce. The brown fields are turning green reinforcing the mantra of self-sustenance, especially in the present tough times.
The pandemic has given some hope for nature to resuscitate. There have been multiple instances of environmental meltdown being decreased or checked. With the world shutting, vehicular movement almost stalled. Airlines and oil industry floundered. The toxic pollutants spewed by the industries and factories in the air, soil and water, reduced, improving the quality of the respective ecosystems.
According to a recent study, levels of harmful fine particulate matter (PM2.5) originating from vehicles and other non-vehicular sources in five Indian cities – Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai — has decreased by up to 54%. The levels of Nitrogen oxide and Sulphur dioxide in the air have dropped 67%. Global carbon dioxide emissions for 2020 are expected to fall 8% due to the shutdowns. This may not reverse climate change or global warming but definitely has provided some breather to nature.
We read about deer and civets spotted on the roads, rivers and streams turned cleaner and with clearer water, endangered Gangetic dolphins became more visible in the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in Bihar, lake water quality improved with concentration of suspended particulate matter reducing 16% due to the reduced human activities.
The Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) are indicators of water pollution level. Almost 50% drop in BOD and COD was reported due to closure of many industries, public, private, commercial spaces, hotels and restaurants and no effluents, waste and sewage release from them, including reduction in religious and cultural activities such as releasing flowers, puja material, bathing and cremation near water bodies.
Noise pollution has always been underrated in comparison to air and water pollution but many studies have validated that it is the next biggest cause of health problems in a multitude of terrestrial as well as aquatic life forms. The lockdown also reportedly decreased noise pollution by some decibels. Many of us have observed the increased presence of birds and not to miss the mellifluous chirping near our urban homes.
While the economy clock reversing due to the lockdown is undesirable, the increase in agricultural production due to more cultivation and traces of improved environmental health are heartily welcome. The enhanced quality of air, water and land is vital for the amelioration of health of humans and other flora-fauna. As they say, there is a silver lining in the dark clouds.
We need to maintain the sustainability of these fingerprints and not let them fade away as the world returns to old normal. Wildlife reclaiming the contested habitats and sightings in the urban areas even during the day times can spark some new insights about their behaviour leading to strategising new plans for their conservation. Collective efforts from the government and citizens can carve a road to fresh air, and cleaner waters for the present and the future.
(The author is Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at FLAME University, Pune)
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