India’s Need for Conservation of Natural Resources
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been warning for years that habitat destruction is changing the patterns of infectious diseases. This includes a growing number of zoonotic diseases- the ones that spread from animals to humans such as rabies, Nipah, Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and COVID-19.
Scientists believe that the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19, likely jumped from bats to humans via an intermediate animal host, before snowballing into a pandemic in a matter of weeks. The highly infectious disease has claimed millions of lives globally.
The chance of coming into contact with zoonotic diseases increases when humans enter biodiversity hotspots, where a large number of animal species are found.
“India is a potential hotspot for emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases,” said Abi Tamim Vanak, a senior fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), and a DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance fellow.
“[This is] Because we have [a] very high density of people and livestock amidst areas of high biodiversity, and potentially very high rates of interaction amongst these.”
Vanak co-leads the OneHealth and Zoonoses programme of the recently announced National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Wellbeing.
The path, for what Vanak describes as potential interaction, has been put on fast-track mode. India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has approved 2,256 of the 2,592 proposals that it received for environment clearance (EC)* between July 2014 and April 24, 2020, according to publicly available data on the ministry’s clearance monitoring website, Parivesh. This is a clearance rate of 87%.
*The Parivesh website does not show data for previous years.
Of these 2,256 approvals, 2,115 approvals had been granted until March 2020. Of these approvals, India Spend has analysed data for 2,053 project proposals; the remaining 62 project proposal details could not be analysed due to missing or vague information.
The MoEFCC granted 278 approvals for projects in and immediately around Protected Areas (PAs), according to the IndiaSpend analysis; PAs are places such as wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, where human presence is severely restricted by law.