A healthy recovery from Covid-19 means investing in people and the planet, experts urge

·3-min read
An Indian child searches for coins used in ritual offerings by Hindu devotees on the polluted banks of the river Yamuna in Allahabad -  DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP
An Indian child searches for coins used in ritual offerings by Hindu devotees on the polluted banks of the river Yamuna in Allahabad - DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that protecting the environment must go hand in hand with economic recovery, doctors and scientists have urged. 

Some 75 per cent of new human diseases over the past century have originated in animals, including Ebola, Sars and HIV. 

Now as Covid-19 - thought to have emerged from bats - threatens to derail global productivity for decades to come, the case for curbing habitat destruction and tackling climate change head on has never been stronger, experts have said. 

“Everything is at stake, in health terms, if we don’t protect the climate and the environment,” Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, coordinator of the climate change and health programme at the WHO, told a virtual briefing today.

“Without the natural environment and ecosystems, it is impossible for us to have clean water, it is impossible to have adequate supplies of food, it is impossible for us to maintain air quality,” he said.

Air pollution has a huge impact on health in South East Asia GHS
Air pollution has a huge impact on health in South East Asia GHS

The warning comes ahead of this weekend’s G20 financial summit, where economic leaders and central bank governors will meet virtually on Saturday, to discuss looming threats to the global economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In June, 40 million doctors, nurses and health care professionals wrote to the heads of the G20 countries demanding that recovery from the novel coronavirus should prioritise the health of individuals and the climate over profit, by ensuring carbon reduction measures are accelerated and global health inequalities are addressed.

However, big carbon emitters, such as airline companies, have already received billion dollar government bailouts after suffering the economic shock of the pandemic. Many are concerned that any recovery may come at the expense of the plant, and in turn, people.

“There is nothing about climate change that doesn’t have to do with health,” Dr Otmar Kloiber from the World Medical Association said.

But the devastation wrought by Covid-19 may only be a taste of what is to come, unless the world rapidly pivots to a “green economy” and brings the climate crisis under control, he warned.

Speaking at the same virtual briefing, Dr Fatima Al Rifai from the International Council of Nurses also warned of the devastating consequences the world may face if it does not address these twin priorities.

“Covid-19 makes it clear that the economy is compromised by human health,” she said. “The concern is that by going back to business as usual post-Covid, where we continue to subsidise polluting industries, the environment and the long-term impact on health on future generations will be overlooked.”

Two months ago, the WHO published a manifesto for a healthy and green Covid-19 recovery

WHO warned that “any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change, that is making our Earth less habitable”.

Decisions countries make in the coming months will either “lock in” economic development patterns that will do permanent and escalating damage to the ecological systems that sustain all human health and livelihoods, or, if wisely taken, promote a healthier, fairer, and greener world, it warned.

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