How green buffers can stop, if not eliminate, zoonotic pandemics
Foster green spaces at a landscape level while aiming for sustainable developmentUpdated: Jun 29, 2020 18:46 IST
Much has been spoken and published over the years by national governments and organisations on the importance and the need to save nature. Looking back, precious little seems to have happened to safeguard ecosystems.
Going by the wildlife parlance, we dwell in our habitats --- rather micro-habitats --- which are subsets of a larger entity – the landscape. This is not a benign entity, but is subjected to environmental processes and man-made impacts. These define a landscape’s dynamics and influence its subsets such as forests, rural, and urban settings. Hence, looking beyond becomes crucial for our well-being.
In the Anthropocene era, humans have left no stone unturned for materialistic gains. The Covid-19 pandemic is a case in point and a wakeup call. But then, where does the green space fit in all this?
Globally, landscapes are transforming as a result of economic geography. Such transformations have altered the natural state, leading to distortions in the ecological food-web of forested and non-forested environments. Humans must remember that biodiversity does not end in a forest or a protected area, but exists even in the ecosystems such as agriculture and plants in a city. Lakes, gardens, shelter belts are ecologically as relevant as forests.
Many zoonotic pandemics like Covid-19 can best be stopped, if not eliminated, through green buffers. The phenological cycle of plant growth in forest, rural, or urban settings harbour a plethora of life forms with intricate vector cycles, many of which we do not know. This assumes more importance in forests owing to their sylvatic cycles and ecological successions. Our compelling needs have arrested or altered such cycles at various stages, while crippling the ability of such ecosystems to perform their function (which also includes reducing the recurrence of zoonotic disease pandemics).
Though much has been stated about ecosystem functions, a lot more is required on landscape epidemiology and the role of green spaces in influencing the pandemic spread. The task requires a dispassionate commitment to ensure the centrality and sanctity of green spaces and issues related to them in forested, rural and urban settings.
In Design with Nature, Ian Mcharg articulated on many thematic areas, and also highlighted the prevalence of disease in a non-sylvan urban locale. With the advent of GIS, cartography has become much easier, where indices of suitability and predictions can be modelled. In a country like India, a three-pronged strategy, focusing on forested, urban, and rural settings at a macro-landscape level needs to address both the prevailing altered states as well as a roadmap for future.
India’s landscapes are no exception to the global phenomenon of transformation. Broadly, anthropogenic, and environmental stochastic process have resulted in three altered states of landscapes: Severe (urban), Moderate (rural-forest interface with a possibility of moderate rehabilitation, and near normal (protected areas and some forests).
The forest environ broadly falls in one or more categories, viz. protected area, community reserve, conservation reserve, reserved forests, protected forests or undemarcated protected forests. The parcels of land contained therein are looked after by a plan of operation emanating from a management plan (protected area or a working plan). Such areas and their linkages within a landscape are “no go” areas in true sense, where no tradeoff is possible. They provide the ecosystem service to the society, including maintenance of the prey, predator, pathogen, and vector cycles. No compensatory efforts worth its name would bring back the character and dynamics of floral and faunal associations inherent in such areas.
The rural locations have their dynamics of their own. The predominant land for agriculture and cash crops has eaten into the habitat of wild animals, leading to man-animal conflicts. This requires redressal at the grassroots level through village level micro-planning, and prescribing a gainful portfolio for community stewardship to safeguard nature. The remuneration or gains to rural society needs to be supported as part of “payment for ecosystem services” (PES).
Urban destinations have undergone alteration to a point of no return. Here, dreaming of a resurrection would remain a dream. Hence, the urban master plan needs to explore options for compensatory measures through retrofitting, to prevent the urban flora and fauna from gaining a pest value.
We need action portfolio through a master plan for addressing all the above altered states, which may involve restorative redevelopment, compensatory amelioration, and in-situ conservation. Such a master plan should be the baseline for any intervention. The ministry of environment, forest and climate change has an innovative format for master planning in the ecologically sensitive zone. Perhaps, an approach on similar lines at a landscape scale would harness all stakeholders through gainful portfolios. This is much needed in the present context, and as a collective responsibility becomes important in fostering green spaces at a landscape level while aiming towards sustainable development.
Rajesh Gopal is secretary general, Global Tiger Forum; and Mohnish Kapoor is head, programme and partnerships, Global Tiger Forum
The views expressed are personal