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India’s protected areas: Going, going…

2. Juni 2020 - 4:29

During the current global pandemic, many governments are creating even more danger by using the crisis to advance looser environmental regulations, hoping their actions will go unnoticed.  The environmental regulations under assault are far-reaching, pertaining to pollution, protection for endangered species, and opening up forest areas for mining and other projects.

India is no exception, having used the Covid-19 pandemic to approve construction of dams, mining projects, thermal power plants, and big infrastructure projects like highways, ports, and airports.  

Under the new scheme, approvals for major projects have been given remotely, via video-conferencing, where shortsighted experts (in the Standing Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change) could not adequately read the fine print nor scrutinize the maps, but nevertheless placed their stamp on such ill-conceived ventures.  

New Law, New Dangers

In India and beyond, the rewriting of environmental laws to accelerate development provides a red carpet for wholesale exploitation of forests and could increase pollution affecting the health and wellbeing of millions of people.  

Aside from this, a number of agencies related to the control of wildlife crime — in particular the protection of tiger reserves and reserve types — will be centralized.  Wildlife experts fear this will make them toothless, with no real power.  

Recently, nearly 300 conservation scientists and activists wrote a letter to the India’s Standing Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, asking that forest and environment clearances to be put on hold during the Covid-19 epidemic.  

In addition, a former Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, sent a letter to the current Minister asking ‘What is the great urgency in ramming such a far-reaching notification through at a time of grave national crisis?”.  Ramesh argues that we cannot allow this loosening of environmental laws to continue, but must harbor our protected areas and wildlife.

India’s environmental laws are in real danger.  As a signatory of multilateral conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and CITES, India has maintained a strong record in conserving endangered species such as the tiger. 

But ill-conceived measures like loosened environmental laws will not reflect well on india’s longstanding commitment to conservation. The ongoing wave of predatory development in India is something that should worry us all.

Kategorien: english

The Path to Our Next Pandemic

22. April 2020 - 10:15

Humanity is in big trouble—and we’re blazing full speed toward even more peril. 

Because of our burgeoning numbers, globalized nature, and habit of exploiting countless wildlife species for food and traditional remedies, we’ve become perilously vulnerable to new pathogens—especially those that jump from animals to humans.

Such pathogens, called “zoonoses,” now account for three quarters of all emerging infectious diseases affecting humankind.  

In our recorded history, major zoonotic plagues have occurred only every few decades or centuries.  But now we’re virtually drowning in zoonoses—with names like HIV, Ebola, bird flu, swine flu, MERS, SARS, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus, and Zika virus.  Globally, a dangerous new zoonosis is appearing every four months.

Much has been said about the conditions that can spawn new zoonoses.  Like the ‘wet markets’ that prevail in much of the Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.  And the thriving bushmeat trades in many developing nations. 

CORRIDORS OF CONTAGION

But those are just part of the problem.  

Just as importantly, new roads, infrastructure, and extractive industries such as mining and logging projects are slicing deep into the world’s remaining wild areas—creating hot zones where pathogens can jump to people who capture, kill, and butcher wild animals.    

Globally, roads have shattered natural ecosystems into more than 600,000 pieces, with the tropics and agriculturally suitable areas suffering the most.  

By 2050, it is projected that another 25 million kilometers of paved roads will crisscross the Earth—enough to encircle the planet more than 600 times.  Moreover, vast areas of native ecosystems will be altered by extractive industries, hydropower, rail and canal projects, and other developments.

Most of Africa’s massive “development corridors” have environmental and social costs that will exceed their potential economic benefits (from W. Laurance et al. 2015. Current Biology 25:3202-3208).

By far the biggest driver of new infrastructure, mining, fossil-fuel, and timber projects is China’s Belt & Road Initiative.  Spanning nearly 130 nations and with a projected budget that could reach $8 trillion, the Belt & Road will be the single largest economic transaction in human history.    

The Belt & Road is being widely criticized—even, remarkably, inside China.  This is because of the widespread perception that it is funding projects with serious environmental and social hazards that too often are saddling developing nations with risky foreign debt.  

Furthermore, many Belt & Road projects involve Chinese lenders and developers paying off local decision-makers.  Even Chinese President Xi Jinpeng admits that the Belt & Road has been tainted by pervasive corruption, with China’s state-owned enterprises, corporations, and lenders being unleashed to pursue aggressive development strategies around the globe. 

Chinese miners, such as this gold miner in the Congo Basin, are enormously active in developing nations.

HOT ZONES AHEAD

As humans penetrate into remote frontier areas, they shake loose the pathogens that live with their natural hosts.  Such pathogens can be devastating when they jump to humans.  For example, Covid-19 has so far caused nearly 200,000 fatalities and under worst-case scenarios could ultimately kill 80-300 million people worldwide.  

We have been warned.  With our roaring bulldozers carving deep into remote ecosystems brimming with biological and microbial diversity, we are creating corridors of contagion—where hunters, miners, colonists, and land speculators can easily pick up new pathogens that, in turn, spur global pandemics.

Yes, the burgeoning illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products is highly lucrative—worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually

Native to Africa and Asia, pangolins are the most widely traded wildlife species in the world.

But is this illicit trade worth its cost?  Covid-19 has revealed that the price of new pathogens—in shattered lives, human suffering, and economic strife—can be far higher than most of us imagined.  

Heading off future pandemics is the only viable strategy.  Closing down wet markets and bushmeat trades is a critical step in preventing the next contagion.

But that’s only part of the solution.  Protecting ourselves also means protecting the last remnants of intact ecosystems—so that the deadly pathogens they harbor stay in place, rather than plaguing humanity.  

And doing that means halting the bulldozers.

Kategorien: english