COVID-19 AND UN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
| Kalpana Palkhiwala, Author & Communicator, New Delhi - 15 Sep 2020

Are we serious and determined to work towards Them?

Covid-19 has shown us many things taught us many lessons. Less pollution gave us fresh air, blue sky, more chirping of birds which almost disappeared, interaction with our own people and a different kind of bond established with them. This period also showed us 1.04 crore odd migrating laborer’s in India walking on highways, forests, all hungry, thirsty, and vulnerable! This situation showed us reality of life with the ugliest face! It showed many things- poverty, hunger, humiliation, water, no work, no education, no sanitation, no peace, and no justice! We are witness to the fractured response of the government. All these were the result of our abuse of natural resources, rampant use of resources. This reminds us of our elders who warned us at each step... the UN General Assembly set the Sustainable Development Goals -SDGs 17 in  2015, but with COVID in front of us, are we serious and determined to work towards them?  

By KALPANA PALKHIWALA

New Delhi, Sep 16, 2020:

Right from our childhood, we have been taught not to waste food in your plate, take whatever you can finish, wash your hands before each meal or after using toilet...clean your nose and eyes and mouth...brush your teeth and so on. Sometimes we followed our elders, at times ignored or done halfheartedly and ran like a bullet to play with friends!

Our elders realized the importance of good habits. We were not serious about them; it was a casual thing for us. What is it today? It is six months since we are under self-imposed house arrest! Reason- COVID! The ugly face of COVID is in front of our eyes. This reminds us of our elders who warned us at each step... the United Nations General Assembly  set the Sustainable Development Goals -SDGs 17 in  2015, but with COVID  in front of us. Are we serious and determined to work towards them?  

As the United Nations describes them, “The Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

They aim at eradicating of poverty, achieve development, preserve the planet, its natural resources, and the environment. They cover almost all sectors and fields. Certain practices we had in our past, few countries had good practices in their culture, few had ethics which helped in maintaining a balance in the environment. But industrialization, globalization, self-centered activities, hunger for accumulation, etc. created problematic situations all over the world.  

Working towards these goals purely involves all live characters! Be it humans, flora, fauna- wild and domesticated, water world with plants and animals. Not only that, air- live fresh, water-clean and pristine as given to us by mountains, brooks, streams and rivers, soil-fertile, capable of giving life to any seed, also will be covered under this.  We are interdependent on each other.

The past six months have shown us many things, taught us many lessons. Less pollution gave us fresh air, blue sky, more chirping of birds which almost disappeared, interaction with our own people and a different kind of bond established with them. People are developing a skill to have dialogues; they understand the value of labour etc.                             

This period also showed us the 1.04 crores odd migrating laborer’s in India walking on highways, forests, all hungry, thirsty, and vulnerable! The reality of life was in front of us- with the ugliest face! We are witness to the fractured response of the government. Till date, most of us have been brought up in a very safe, secure environment in the house. So, only that world was known to us.

But this situation showed us the real world. It showed many things- poverty, hunger, humiliation, water, no work, no education, no sanitation, no peace, and no justice! All these were the result of our abuse of natural resources, no equality, absence of education to all, rampant use of resources, being greedy. It has shown us many more things.

These pandemics are either connected to climate change or our mismanagement of sanitation. Since the last few years, we have rushed to industrialization - what for? - To earn more profit /so more machines, less workers, -create unemployment. Cities are getting larger, constructing sky kissing buildings, so cut trees, make cities like furnaces- non habitable.

More factories we are creating, which creates pollution of air, water and noise.

To get cheap labor, attract unemployed, poor people from villages without providing any facility of sanitation, potable water, shelter etc.

Do we ever think about why it happened, now? and that too all over the world?

If you see the history of the pandemic, it has occurred 100 years back. It occurred in certain parts of the world. Flu happened 100 years back in 1918-1920, which was, across the globe.

The first epidemic was recorded in the year 165 AD - Antonine Plague or Plague of Galen. It affected the parts of Asia Minor, i.e., Egypt, Greece and Italy. The exact reason is unknown, but it is believed that it was because of smallpox or measles. It decimated the Roman Army.

The second epidemic happened in 541-542. Plague Justinian affected the Byzantine Empire and Mediterranean port cities. The reason for this plague was fleas were breeding on rats, thriving in vegetable dirt, waste which was not disposed of.

Again after about 800 tears, the epidemic assaulted three continents namely Europe, Africa, and Asia which lasted for 9 years. It was Bubonic Plague also is known as Black death. It spread from harbors where rats and fleas flourish in rotten places, to inland cities. The black Death started in 1346 and ended in 1353.

Exactly after 500 years, ie in 1852 Third Cholera appeared in the belt of river Ganges and tore through Asia, Europe, North America and Africa. Contaminated water was the cause of this.

Flu or Influenza occurred in three different places on the globe, each far away from each other in 1889. It was recorded in Bukhara, Central Asia in Turkestan, Athabasca in North-west Canada and Greenland. It lasted for two years.

It was 1910-1911 when the sixth cholera broke out in India and spread to the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, and Russia. The reason was polluted water. Various traits of Flu engulfed the whole of the globe in 1918-20, Asian flu in 1956-58 and Influenza in 1968 in Hongkong, Singapore, and Vietnam

A new kind of epidemic mushroomed in Congo in 2005-12 and appeared in the majority in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was HIV-AIDS.

Right from the first epidemic to date, it surfaced after a gap of 400 years, 800 years, 500 years, 40, 30, or 20 years. In the past, the world was a world, it did not transform into a global village where everything was easy, transportation of goods, and traveling. That curtail epidemics to a certain extent.  

In the past, the green belts all over the world were preserved. If we look at the series of epidemics, in most of the cases they were spread by virus and plague by bacteria. This Virus is a very typical organism, hyperactive, infectious agent and replicate only inside the living cells of an organism. Thus, being a living organism, it has urge to live and replicate.

The problem is the replication is in thousands, which is great danger. Besides this, they change their traits rapidly before one can find out a weapon to fight them. So, that is another threat. Till forests were there, the virus, which attack animal and plants to microorganisms, were trapped in the labyrinth of the forest. Humans were saved to a large extent.  E-bola virus in Africa was controlled successfully; this was one of the reasons.  By reducing the green cover of the earth, we invited virus- ‘Be our guest! And now we suffer!’

All over the world, the oceans are called DEAD WATER now. Oil spills. Ocean transport, consumption of Cruise based industries, fishing, acidification, have polluted ocean waters which have great vegetation and animals.

Let us see life below water. Seas and oceans cover 70 % of our planet. We rely on them for food, energy, and water. But we damage these precious resources. We must not pollute them, stop overfishing, and protect all marine life around the world.

Does anybody know how the fishing scenario has changed since accurate information was given by scientific departments? In old times, fisher folks, small or big, used to go for fishing throughout the year- minus monsoon season. Sometimes it was good to catch, at other times hard to support their own family. So, the life was not comfortable. Remote Sensing Satellites are placed around the earth and they are very smart. They locate ocean areas, ocean currents, temperature, turbidity, colour that is productivity, salinity, and map fronts.

They use the continental shelf as a waveguide, they are new acoustic techniques. It detects and takes images of fish schools at long distances. Now fishermen do not go to the temple, see almanac or break a coconut.  Now they hire a big vessel, head towards huge possible catch, and get more than abundant haul. They do not capture them judiciously. More fish, more business, more profit. Everything is being done mindlessly.  

Once on a leisure Sunday, I saw a father-son duo on a lake, they came for fishing. The son was hardly 13-14 years. Father wanted to teach him how to catch fish. They were at distance; son caught a fish and could not separate it from the hook. He called his father; father ran to him. Father unhooked the fish, not to hurt it much, and gave it to his son. He explained all characteristics, species, etc, and told his son to put it back in the water. The son was perplexed, 'Why" was his question. The father explained to him, "Son, she is a baby. Let her enjoy her life a bit, let her see the world, let her also give babies then...some time...someday...."

This reminds me of my school days. While teaching addition and subtraction, a question used to always appear in the examination of Mathematics. A fisherman caught 70 fish, he started putting them in his basket from the net, every fifth fish which he caught, a throwback in the water. How many fish did he take home in all? My innocent mind used to think, “What a stupid man the fisherman was! He struggled so much to catch them and now throwing a few of them back? What was the need to work so hard?” During those days, I could not think about this judicious behavior.

Are our fishermen who are commercial people, going to take care like this? Their overfishing has put much fish and many other marine organisms in the dangerous threatened situation. International Union of Conservation of Nature-IUCN shows different categories of this danger.

During the last 40 years, fisheries' productivity is declined due to the pressure of overfishing, habitat change. Sustainable use of marine resources requires effective monitoring of the world's fish stock. It is required to have stop destructive fishing practices and unregulated practice, regulate fishing harvesting, preserve mangroves, conserve coastal and marine areas. Do not support big construction near the sea.

Here comes a shark- a whale shark knocking my memory. The Whale Shark is the world's largest fish. It weighs up to 20 tonnes and measuring up to 15-20 meters. Its longevity ranges from 60 to 100 years.

Despite its immense size, the whale shark is harmless to human beings. They visit once in a year to Junagadh district, Gujarat, all the seacoast area, got trapped in fishing nets, and fishermen had the best of time. A whale, look at the quantity of oil, scales, bones...They were happy and started catching them and also killing them whoever was trapped in their net and also while fishing.

Now the problem was this whale has few defenses. Its innate biological characteristics like large size, slow growth, late maturity, and extended long life made it more susceptible to exploitation. Till 2001 it did not have protected status and slaughtered in large numbers. Kharva and koli, the fisher community of Gujarat, which is not educated, were involved in this.

Why should they spare whale, because it was a great profit? How to convince them and who will take initiative to make them understand, that they should stop this slaughter? To save these species getting extinct, a unique partnership was devised.

Public-private partnerships played a very important role here. Of course, all other partners were behind the curtain.  Famous Ram Katha narrator and religious leader Mr Morari Bapu was roped in this and he was the only savior. His Rama Katha was organized. He explained that this shark whale is visiting Gujarat sea coast for delivering her young. A daughter comes home, to her parent's house in our society. It travels to many places, coming from African shores, how you can not treat her like your daughter. His religious appeal evoked the right sentiments among the local fisherman. The whale shark is saved.

Yes, the partnership is with the Forest Department, Wildlife Trust of India, Tata Chemicals and local fisherman community. Whenever a shark is trapped in the net, a whole gamut of machinery releases the shark in the sea and compensates this fisher community.

 

Life on land- the climate change has disturbed many life cycles.

Universally familiar in appearance, the widespread and once abundant house sparrow has become a mystery bird and is becoming increasingly rare all over the world. Perky and bustling, small, plump and cheeky, house sparrows have always been gregarious, mingling with finches in the fields in autumn and winter, especially when stubble is available to them. For years we felt irritated, but now weeks pass without a single one putting in an appearance. That took me to my school days when we read the well-known Hindi writer Mahadevi Verma’s story ‘Goraiya’. That time it felt surprising- neither a king nor a fairy nor a great leader was the subject of a story, but a small Goraiya! Because this drab brown and grey creature befriended us humans with its chirps and cute little ways and became part of our lives.

We might not be realized, but every quarter, our house requires spray of insecticides. Small, little worms and insects which were cleaned by sparrows have open ground in the house. Our mothers-house managers ask for a solution- we ask for an insecticide company to spray.

Why it disappeared? Goraiya used to stay with humans, in their houses, behind the furniture, inside the niche, side of the pillars etc. In modern living conditions, we have air tight houses to run air condition machines. We have closed the entry of house sparrow. Result? We are facing.

 Another glaring example is of coexistence or dependence!

The Parsee community in Mumbai has been deeply worried about the last rites of their departed near and dear ones since the late 1990s. The Parsees, a small community in India follow the Zoroastrian faith. In keeping with tradition, they cannot cremate, bury or submerge their dead in water because a corpse is considered impure and Zoroastrianism does not permit defiling the elements with it. The Parsees practice sky burials wherein the bodies of the dead are placed on platforms atop Towers of Silence where vultures, kites and crows dispose of them in no time, leaving only dry bones.

Once, when the community went to place another one of their dead, to their horror they found the previous corpse in a decomposed state. The community and the city of Mumbai noticed the first signs of disappearing vultures!

Vultures are not disappearing only in India. In many parts of Africa, communities depend on vultures to dispose livestock carcasses because no carrion removal system exists. People in African communities also noticed carcasses strewn everywhere outside their villages for days on end. In Asia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos have also observed rotting carcasses that no longer attract vultures because there are not many lefts.

Dead vultures were found in Nepal and Pakistan, and this heightened concern. A banned drug, diclofenac is used to treat suffering cattle. The endangered birds eat the remains of  the carcasses of drugged animals and suffer kidney failure and visceral gout, which is usually fatal. The absence of vultures produces ecological imbalance, pollution and health dangers. Increasing urbanization, rampant use of pesticides in agricultural fields, mounting pollution and wide-scale killing of vultures are all contributing factors to vulture endangerment.

Sustainable cities – look at our own city! The Aravalli mountain Range, started near Delhi- in south-west direction, passing through Haryana and Rajasthan. How many hills and beautiful ridges are left? So, that green cover we have lost. We see different kind of mountains in and around the city. They are mountains of garbage collected from the city dwellers. Are people living around these mountains get good health and wellbeing?

There are tens of hundreds of such examples, which tells us- our lives are interdependent with all living beings and also panchmahabhoota.

There are goals of Sustainable cities and communities and Responsible Production and Consumption.

Here is a success story of The Magarpatta city. More popularly known as ‘Oxygen Zone’ is located in the city of Pune in the Western part of India. The moment one steps in this township, his/her head will spin in astonishment. The cleanliness, fresh air, zero pollution, everything is beyond one’s level of comprehension. One will feel, I am not in this country, I am abroad somewhere!  Each house of the city is provided with a solar water heater. Additionally, there is a biogas power generation plant that converts two tonnes of organic waste into 10.7 million kWh of electricity every day. Other major activities such as rainwater harvesting, Waste water recycling, and solid waste management, are also implemented in the showcase city.

Magarpatta is a one-of its-kind integrated township developed by 120 families of farmers from Magarpatta who came together to pool in their ancestral land. Believe me, it is purely farmer-citizens effort. Approved by the Government of Maharashtra it is spread over 430 acres of prime land, which is planned on the core idea of ‘walk-to-walk, walk–to-school’ elimination the stress of travelling for both parents and their children.

The goal was to create a city where the needs of a family would be integrated into one campus. It emphasizes on environment, education, health care and fitness, and recreation as well. A brief status on the renewable energy technologies/devices integrated in the complex are Solar Water Heating System, Solar Passive Architecture, Solid Waste management, Sewage Water Treatment, Water harvesting, Extensive Landscaping and much more.

So, nothing is impossible to achieve. Collective wisdom, determination, perseverance is required.

There is a goal regarding clean water. Nature always gives us clean water, but we profit-hungry human beings, contaminating it. Why? To save taxes, to save expenditure on disposal, to increase profit!

And how? I will give you a small example. In South Gujarat, in a town, people started getting reddish-yellow water in the tap. It was not potable at all, not only that, it was harmful to the body- skin and abdomen both. People were surprised. How did it happen? The main industry of this town is the coloring of cloth and sarees. It was mandatory for each industrial unit to treat it, and dispose of it in a safe manner, away from habitation. If industry people install this treatment plants, it incurs expenditure, meaning profit will be reduced.  They devised a homogenous method of disposing of this harmful wastewater. We are 'jugaadu', right! They started pumping this water deep in the soil, which polluted the groundwater river which was the source of the city. Now whom to blame- the industrialist who did not have a conscience? The officers or administration of the town-government machinery who ignored this activity because, they did not foresee the result of this or perhaps, their palms were greased?

I remember one incident of a handicapped child. It is an incident from Maharashtra. The state government had a policy, one deaf child of a house- or parents will be given all aid- medical- transport- hearing aid- how to use it, school admission etc. Students from Tata Institute of Social Sciences-TISS, were in the field, identified a child, and started treatment. It so happened that two children in the same family had a problem and BABU sitting in the secretariat refused to give aid for the second child. The Student from TISS fought tooth and nail and got the aid for both the children of the same family.

But remember, nothing comes easy and free. The student had to spend for conveyance from her own pocket to visit the doctor, gather required certificates from certain authorities, spend on transport for the 4 members of the family, skip lectures, forget lunch, feed those 4 members of the family,…but she finally won the case! So, perseverance…will definitely bring you good, desired results.

We have to create awareness- only law and law machinery will not bring good results! we have to be friends with them, one among them and change their wrong ideas, misinformation, and their heart.

Remember, every single person deserves equal respect and generosity. Perhaps a person who has been harassed either by human beings, circumstances or disaster, needs sympathy as well.

The stable functioning of Earth systems — including the atmosphere, oceans, forests, waterways, biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles — is a prerequisite for a thriving global society.

Human pressure risks causing widespread, abrupt, and possibly irreversible changes to basic Earth-system processes. Water shortages, extreme weather, deteriorating conditions for food production, ecosystem loss, ocean acidification, ozone layer depletion, and sea-level rise are real dangers that threaten development and trigger humanitarian crises across the globe.

Growing affluence and the right to development among the world's poor demand that people of all nations make the transition to sustainable lifestyles.

Sustainable development should meet the needs of the present while safeguarding Earth's life-support system, on which the welfare of current and future generations depends. 

Our ancestors developed agriculture and modern societies since the ice-clad northern hemisphere, re-developed farming techniques, modified them, and brought them till the present date. This provides us a scientific reference point. Indeed, these are the only conditions we know that can support modern life.

When I am talking about our farming techniques of our ancestors, let me tell you, we have received an earthen pot full of grains from the excavation site of Harappa- There is an earthen, well fired  jar within a jar, well designed, the outer-one is perforated, to enable air circulation, perhaps and the inner jar contains grains in very good condition. Late Dr S R Rao, a world-renowned marine archaeologist got this in one of his excavations. He discovered 50 sites of Indus civilization and excavated Rangpur and Lothal in Gujarat.

The ozone layer in the stratosphere shields life on earth from most ultra violet-B rays and Ultra violet-C rays. In this layer, ozone and oxygen molecules are constantly formed, destructed and reformed. Freely moving oxygen molecules when bumping into O2-oxygen, they form ozone - O3, and when bumping into the same oxygen molecule, they form oxygen- O2. This process is so fast that a layer of ozone is maintained in the stratosphere, it acts as a barrier to the ultraviolet rays which are harmful to the earth’s surface, its living beings, and its ecosystem. UV-B radiation can cause direct DNA damage and skin cancer.

British scientists are measuring ozone in the Antarctic atmosphere since 1957. The first time in 1976 at Halley Bay, Antarctica recorded a low ozone amount and they thought it was malfunctioning of their instrument and researchers were not much concerned. Sometimes one finds a low ozone layer, but it is seasonal and recovers fast.

But this phenomenon occurred every year and in 1985 the scientists were certain that this was a major problem. They found an ozone hole and it was identified as the world’s largest ozone hole. This hole actually is a thinning of the ozone layer through which UV rays penetrate and reach earth.

Again, an incident was reported in 1992 that in the southern part of Chile cattle became blind. Gradually cases of people suffering severe burns of skin from short exposure to sunlight were also reported. Trees in large parts of this area were wilted and animals died because of starvation. Either we fail to get registered or we ignore to take note of indications that nature gives us from time to time. NASA reported in 1992 that ozone-depleting chlorine is found at a high level in Northern Hemisphere and this could lead to an ozone hole similar to that over Antarctica. So, apart from Sun-rays, another factor was also there to deplete the ozone layer! 

During the 1960s, industries started using a chemical compound called chlorofluorocarbons-CFCs in air conditioners, aerosol spray cans, industrial cleaning products, and Styrofoam. Once in the atmosphere, the CFCs drift slowly upward and are broken due to ultraviolet radiation, releasing chlorine atoms, which are able to destroy ozone molecules.

Once in the atmosphere, CFCs drift slowly upward to the stratosphere, where they are broken up by ultraviolet radiation, releasing chlorine atoms, which are able to destroy ozone molecules. And this process is so fast that free oxygen molecules in the stratosphere could not be built back up. The ozone hole was getting larger.

Aerosols – that is suspension of solids and or liquid particles in the air we breathe as dust, smoke and haze -affect cloud formation and patterns of atmospheric circulation-for example the monsoon systems in tropical region. They also change how much solar radiation is reflected or absorbed in the atmosphere. Humans affect aerosol loading by pollution and land-use change that increases the release of dust and smoke. Biomass burning is one of the significant global sources of atmospheric aerosols and gas emissions.

Added to this are forests fires are also major source of carbon dioxide. They release carbon di-oxide –CO2, Carbon Monoxide -CO, Methane CO4, Volatile organic compounds-VOC, nitrogen oxides and halogen compounds. The green house gases CO2 and CO4 directly influence climate and human health and global warming. In urban areas carbonaceous aerosols associated with vehicular combustion are major source of pollution and radioactive effect.

How will we reduce inequalities? This can be achieved by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies, and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in great regards. They must not remain on paper-which is happening these days. Adopt policies, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies, this will lead you to greater equality.

Second suggestion is ‘Be a feminist’. In any corner of the world, when women are given more respect, treated equal, allow them to pursue their personal dreams and ambitions, many problems are solved, Life improves for everyone. Women are energetic, inspiring, biologically stronger than men, and help us to move forward and not backward- Work harder for those who are in the category of ’Have nots’, because they need more support than anybody else.

Industry, Innovation and Infra structure

The city of Ahmedabad was considered The Manchester of India in the footsteps of the

Manchester city of the UK, which was the king in the production of textiles started with the first mill in 1861. Economic conditions and attitudes helped in installing total 66 mills in radius of 8 to 10 kilometers. How did it achieve this status?

Investment in infrastructure and innovations are crucial drivers of economic growth and development. To attract and invite skilled artisans from all over India, the owners of the mills started constructing residential facilities with potable water and proper sanitation. These rows of houses are called chawls. The same pattern was followed in the city of Mumbai where the work force was provided cheap, housing in the down town area.

This helped them to access the work place easily. The mill owners did earn a profit, but not at the cost of poor laborers! With over half the population of the world live in cities, mass transport and renewable energy are becoming more important. Growth of new industries, information and communication technologies are all around us. So, let us not talk about why it is not top in textiles today. Many factors are responsible. But the point of infrastructure in context of human beings, I wanted to bring forth.

Three pillars of sustainable development are economic, social and environmental. 

To achieve these goals, we have to take care of, rather control climate change; the rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine); interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; global freshwater use; change in land use; chemical pollution; and atmospheric aerosol loading.

Image Caption –

  1. Author - Kalpana Palkhiwala - Source –author
  2. Mountain of waste, Tughalaquabad, Delhi - Source –author
  3. SDGs UN -17 symbols Source – UN.org

Kalpana Palkhiwala, Author, Communicator & Painter, New Delhi

Ms Kalpana Ben Palkhiwala, is a Gandhian who retired as Dy Director, Ministry of I&B after working long with AIR, DAVP, PD, PIB of MIB, and MEA which gave her experience in Print, Electronic & Digital Media and management; Working as an educationist through her project ‘BapuGeetika-Songs for the Mahatma’; Has translated about 400 books from English-Hindi to Gujarati and vis–vis; Has written extensively on Environment, Forests, Science, and Technology; pursuing diversified interests, one of them is painting; She is also a Guest Lecturer at Gujarat Vidyapeeth and also associated with the L.J. Institute of Media and Communication, Ahmedabad. Contact- vanikalpana@gmail.com 


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