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The world has already experienced the spread and impact of the ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome’ caused by SARS Coronavirus (SARS-CoV), Ebola, Nipah and now the coronavirus disease, COVID -19.  We are now struck with the spread of COVID 19 at an alarming rate, and in geometric proportions, from person to person, and across multiple nations in the world with no signs of slowing down.

 It is really worrying and horrifying, as the medical science and the scientific community at large seem to be at a loss, at least in the current scenario. The Central and State Governments are doing their best to reduce the spread through surveillance and containment of infections, quarantine and isolation, as well as treating the infected, though a specific vaccine is yet to be developed. As the infection is assuming pandemic proportions, the Indian Government has declared 21 days of national lockdown to contain the spread of this dangerous disease. 

Earth, the One Common Home: Pope Francis in his encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ exhorts the Church to take care of the ecosystem and this planet as the common home where everything is connected. Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth. We are one human family on one common home which is the planet earth. Hence our elders used to have symbiotic relationship with nature, ensuring interconnectedness and biodiversity. Good health of this planet means good health of all those living on it.

God has created this universe in such a way as to ensure interconnectedness and interdependence among its creations. By protecting the habitat of other species of God’s creation, they will not enter the human habitations for their food and shelter. Biodiversity acts as a protective layer to prevent the spread of diseases from animals to humans. A healthy ecosystem, where our guests, the birds and mammals, live together in total harmony, will provide us a better environment, with no room for the spread of diseases. It is high time that we re-set the lost equation among the living beings and bring back the diseased earth back to its state of harmony and peace. 

King, Martin Luther Jr., in his letter from a Birmingham jail said “ Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” This reminds us of the interconnectedness, injustice, and loss of biodiversity; human beings invading the habitats of other species, leading to ecological imbalance. Researchers and environmental activists today strongly feel that the destruction of biodiversity creates favorable circumstances for the new viruses and diseases like corona. This can be linked with the outbreak of Corona virus wherein we invade the habitat of other species with our greed for manipulating them for our profit. The time has come to connect our health and wellbeing with the protection of biodiversity, conservation of ecosystem, interconnectedness and integrity of God’s creations.

Lock down Unlocked the Freedom of the Nature : The health disaster posed by Corona virus is connected to the extinction of species and climate change. Environmental degradation due to human interactions with the nature is on the rise during the last few years. The increasing degradation of production base and the imbalance in land-water-plant-human-animal system is leading to ecological imbalance and economic insecurity. At least a few days during lock down is a great chance for the nature.  The ecosystem started flourishing with the lock down announced by the Government of India. There is drastic reduction in vehicular emissions, the industrial operations has grounded to a halt, with no human interactions to spoil the nature, and a resultant improvement in the air quality. The air is much healthier than before. CNN reported that the 1.3 billion people to a near halt has provided a temporary remedy to the suffocating pollution levels. Main cities are recording much lower levels of nitrogen dioxide and harmful microscopic particulate matter PM2.5. The normal level of PM2.5 is 60 microgram cubic meter. When the level of PM2.5 increases, it penetrates deeply into our lungs leading to breathing problems, cough, asthma, burning sensation in the eyes etc. While the pollution level is improving, it helps also in improving the existence of ozone layer. Birds and butterflies stated enjoying their life as human disturbance is reduced. This is a great realization for us to take care of all species of God’s creation. The earth is not just for human beings alone, but for others as well, and hence protecting the rights of Mother Nature is a critical health imperative.

Janatha Curfew on the Earth Day: In the dark clouds of coronavirus, the quarantine and the lock down, let us see the silver lining that nature has thrived as humans retreat. This is also a strong reminder that unless we take care to give nature its due rightful space, the nature would resort to extreme steps in reclaiming its space and to re-set the balance. While it is painful to accept the reality, let us commit to be periodically reminded of our responsibility to Mother Earth and the planet. The right time for this would be the Earth Day. It would be most appropriate to declare Janatha Curfew on every April 22nd, the Earth Day, a day when we shut down all human activity, a day free of vehicular movements and industrial production as a sign of our respectful salute to nature, a day to appreciate the old values and simpler things in life, a day to enjoy silence and clean air, and a day to declare our solidarity with all living creatures, respecting their right for co-habitation and co-existence with us humans.

(The writer is works with Caritas India, New Delhi)

(Published on 13th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 16)