Environmental repercussions of the covid-19 pandemic

Environmental repercussions of the covid-19 pandemic

The world is experiencing a situation just before experienced, because in millennia there has not been a confinement like the current one, not only of cities, but with closed national borders, without sports, cultural, folkloric shows, without family outings, without trips of tourism, with empty churches, but hospitals filling with patients infected by this pandemic. The health systems of countries like ours, about to collapse. The press information indicates almost empty cities, the financial system, commerce and the business sector are in pause and in serious risk of bankruptcy and loss of jobs.

Today, a large part of the population knows something about viruses; However, it is important to clarify, because when it comes to viruses, it is a terrifying expression; However, in accordance with scientific studies such as the one developed by Pennsylvania State University, the viral ecologist Marilyn Roossinck, writes an article entitled "Viruses deserve a better reputation", argues that viruses are essential for life, and that, as very much, only one percent (a high estimate) are pathogenic (that is, harmful to their hosts); therefore, viruses are also beneficial and remain in various settings and even within our organisms and in the plant and animal system. Regarding the viruses that have generated public health problems, we have all the flu, influenza, H1N1, HIV, yellow fever, herpes, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), Ebola, etc. Which are certainly worrisome for everyone and for the State, since they affect public health, bring illness and death in many cases.

The COVID-19 pandemic already affects more than 200 countries in the world and has paralyzed the productive system, congests and collapses health systems, due to the speed of its contagion and because its consequences are violent in terms of its high vulnerability to the organs of the respiratory system; This undoubtedly affects the economy due to the closure of industries, factories, shops, businesses, tourism and almost all services, from which the vital support of families is obtained day by day.

Impact on air quality

The measures that the various affected countries have taken to stop the pandemic such as the paralysis of industry, transport, commerce, services, confinement of citizens in their homes, have environmental repercussions, which many scholars have called "a planetary respite", This is due to the fact that there has been an important reduction in air quality pollution, emissions of polluting gases such as nitrogen dioxide -NO2- very toxic gas, carbon dioxide -CO2- the most harmful generator of global warming and the acidification of the oceans.

There are many reports; It is the case that according to calculations by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) in the United States, the closure of factories and shops in China, as well as the restrictions on air travel imposed, has produced a decrease in emissions of CO2 of at least 25%, due to a reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels such as oil, gas or coal, among others, a figure that represents, at a global level, a reduction of approximately 6%.

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) maintains that "people who have been continuously exposed to high levels of air pollution are more likely to contract the coronavirus and have a higher risk of death"; It should be noted that environmental pollution produces microscopic polluting particles that we usually call particulate matter (PM), this PM is of two types, according to its diameter, PM10 and PM2.5, depending on whether they measure 10 µm or 2.5 µm (micrometers; a µm is equivalent to one thousandth of a millimeter), this PM contains toxic elements that pass through the upper, middle and internal respiratory system, causing acute, cumulative and chronic diseases as well as lung damage. In Peru, between 28 and 46 micrograms per m3 (µg / m3) of PM2.5 particles are generated and, according to the ECA air, the maximum limit should be 10 µg / m3.

In China, where the pandemic began and, which constitutes one of the countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions (emits more than 36% of total global emissions), according to NASA satellite images, there has been a huge decrease in NO2 concentration and CO2 emissions have been reduced by 25% (about 200 million tons equivalent to 6% worldwide); This information dates from January 2020, the date this pandemic began in China. On the other hand, the American Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that during this year pollutant emissions will fall by 7.5%; meaning a reduction that constitutes the largest, observed since 1990.

Recent studies by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have shown that air pollution makes people more susceptible to respiratory diseases. Studies on the SARS epidemic in China showed that patients in cities with high air pollution were "twice as likely to die from SARS" compared to patients in areas with cleaner air. The study provides preliminary data that identify a correlation between the upper and required levels of PM10 and the total number of COVID-19 infections.

On the other hand, the European Space Agency (ESA) has released satellite images that show a significant decrease in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in its member countries, due to the paralysis of transport and the industry that uses fossil fuel; According to the ESA, pollution in European countries has dropped "drastically" after the authorities decreed the quarantine.

NASA has also shown satellite images revealing the substantial drops in nitrogen dioxide as people stayed home and industries went on hiatus: first China, Italy, Spain, Great Britain and others, after the decree established by the authorities for citizens to isolate themselves at home.

According to data provided by Greenpeace (an international non-governmental organization dedicated to environmental defense), this confinement of citizens has contributed to reducing pollution in European countries due to the decrease in vehicle circulation, which has made the average values ​​of nitrogen dioxide (whose main source of emission is vehicles and industries that use fossil fuels as an energy source), have fallen by up to 40% below the limit recommended by the WHO and the EU to preserve health.

As can be seen, due to the reduction in industrial activity and the decrease in transport and vehicles on public roads, in recent days, they show that, due to the coronavirus crisis, emissions of CO2, NO2 have been reduced , SO2, in various countries.

Katharine Hayhoe (professor at Texas Tech University) defines climate change as a “threat multiplier” that worsens many of our problems and, in a scientific article, shows a detailed analysis of the effects of high concentrations of PM10 on the spread of the virus.

In the case of Peru, evaluations carried out by MINAM indicate that the air quality in Lima and Callao reached levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), results that had not been achieved for some years. It should be stated that the measurements carried out since the quarantine began, at the air quality station of the San Juan de Lurigancho district, recorded a lower pollution value on March 20, reporting values ​​of 4 µg / m3 for PM2. 5, a figure that is within the maximum range of 10 µg / m³ recommended by the WHO. Likewise, the measurement of March 23 followed the trend with a figure of 6 µg / m3.

Measurements prior to quarantine (March 2018), reported records above 50 µg / m3; This shows a reduction in the average concentration related to a gradual improvement in air quality in the city, increased with the effect of the reduction of emissions due to the suppression of vehicular flow due to mandatory social isolation.

At present, air quality in Lima and Callao is linked to particulate matter (PM2.5) because it exceeds the value of the Environmental Quality Standard (ECA) for air, such information comes from the Service stations National of Meteorology and Hydrology (SENAMHI) and the General Directorate of Health (DIGESA).

On the other hand, various journalistic reports have shown the presence of fauna along the Peruvian coast; birds, aquatic mammals (dolphins), sea turtles, etc. they have been sighted in abundance on the beaches that a few months ago were occupied by vacationers; In many Latin cities, wild animals have also occupied the streets of the cities, in clear evidence of the absence of noise, fires, toxic fumes, solid waste and polluting gases.

For all that has been said, protecting the environment is the best way to protect human health and well-being, even from pandemics. Environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity create the conditions for the type of animal-to-human zoonoses that have repeatedly resulted in epidemics.

Use of wildlife by man

As has been analyzed, the reduction of greenhouse gases and the reduction of illegal wildlife trafficking are some of the repercussions that have been observed as certain benefits that the coronavirus pandemic that the world is facing is generating.

It is also perceptible that the temporary ban on wildlife trade imposed by China to combat the coronavirus, has given a pause to some threatened animal species, since China, like many other countries, due to cultural, religious customs or due to aspects of customary medicine, it uses species considered exotic both for consumption, for use in traditional medicine, and in religious ceremonies; many of these species have been cataloged in some degree of vulnerability and, some of them registered in the "red list" of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

According to information from the United Nations, the illegal wildlife trade reaches around 20,000 million dollars a year and is the fourth largest illegal trade in the world after drugs, human smuggling and counterfeiting. This ban on trade in meat or products from wild species has been established in China due to the pandemic, since many of the emerging infections in humans come from animals, and particularly from wild animals.

Peru is a consumer of wild animals that are freely sold in the markets: shrimp, oysters, deer, batrachians, bats, quirquinchos, wild pigs, various species of birds, reptiles, lobsters, insect larvae, abdomen of certain species of insects , marsupials, primates, mammals, rodents, fish, etc. that even its relationship with zoonotic diseases is not adequately explained.

Conserve nature to avoid pandemics

The World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF, issues the following opinion: "This health crisis should be a wake-up call", "And so it should be, since it should serve to generate greater social awareness regarding the care of the planet and the rational use of resources ”. Under these characteristics, and according to the WWF, in a recent study, "there is a very close link between the spread of pandemics and the size of the loss of nature, a problem that is accentuated year by year."

On the other hand, through an authorized opinion the WWF confirms that there is “a boomerang effect of the destruction of ecosystems: protecting human health while preserving biodiversity highlights some of the most devastating effects caused by man and how they affect the spread of some diseases that have a strong impact not only on people's health, but also on the economy and social relations ”. The study refers to the link that exists between human actions and certain diseases and emphasizes that human health "can be protected precisely by defending nature."

Another reason for the spread of diseases, according to the Report cited above, is the destruction of natural ecosystems, which have "a fundamental role in regulating the transmission and spread of infectious diseases."

It should be noted that the destruction of habitats and biodiversity caused by man breaks ecological balances that can counteract the microorganisms responsible for certain diseases and create favorable conditions for their spread.

For the aforementioned reasons and to prevent the world from having to continue facing these types of situations, the WWF considers that it is essential to “protect natural ecosystems, conserve unpolluted areas of the planet, combat consumption and trafficking of wild species , rebuild the balance of damaged ecosystems and stop climate change ”.

The slowdown in economic activity observed in most of the countries affected by COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the environment. There is a drastic reduction in pollution and the greenhouse effect in several areas of the world. But this "respite" could only be a short parenthesis if there is no world awareness. It is one of the indirect but positive effects of this pandemic. Restrictions on economic activity and air, land and maritime traffic, as well as the closure of industries and population confinement have allowed a surprising drop in environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and a restriction on trade in wildlife species.

However, from the above, when economic reactivation is an essential need, strategies must lead to public policies for the benefit of sustainable development that favors the most affected and poor in society; In this context, it will be important that the energies to be promoted and promoted for development are those that are less polluting; In Peru we have underutilized energy sources, such as hydro, wind and solar energy; the investment must be directed to the use and massification of these energy systems, so abundant in Peru.

It is time to consider how to use economic development strategies and proposals to support a long-term shift toward more environmentally and climate-friendly business, industrial, and production practices.

Cusco, April 2020.

M.Sc. Juan Eduardo Gil Mora, Blgo. M.Sc. in Environmental Science and Technology. Environmental consultant. SENACE Registry N ° 436-AGR-2019. Teacher at the Graduate School at the Andean University of Cusco.

Video: Environmental Health in a Pandemic: The Impact of COVID-19 on Water Systems (November 2020).