The arrival of COVID-19 has not been easy. In fact, it’s quite possibly one of the greatest shocks that hit the world. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been compromised, but it’s not just a health concern – there is a loss of employment and income, causing further damage to livelihoods, health, and sustainable development.
Things have started to slowly move on, and it is important to note that decisions made in the coming months can impact economic development patterns. There are two ways it can go: if wisely executed and followed, the moves can promote a healthier, fairer, and greener world. If not, there is a possibility of permanent and escalating damage to the ecological systems that sustain all human health and livelihoods.
These are some advices from WHO that we should all take into consideration:
Nature is everything
It is key to protect and preserve the source of human health – nature. This is the world’s original source of all clean air, water, and food. It’s not rocket science: economies are a product of healthy human societies, which in turn rely on the natural environment. From deforestation, polluting agricultural practices, to unsafe management and consumption of wildlife, humanity has long taken Mother Earth for granted.
There is also the fact that overusing nature increases increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases in humans – over 60% of which originate from animals, mainly from wildlife. Plans for post-COVID-19 recovery need to lessen our impact on the environment, so as to reduce the risk at source. This will also help control of disease outbreaks, and reduce the risk of future health risks.
The importance of essential health care services
Around the world, billions of people lack access to the most basic services that are required to protect their health, this ranges from water and sanitation to clean energy in healthcare facilities.
Whether from COVID-19, or any other risk, it is essential that health care facilities to be equipped with water and sanitation services. This includes soap and water that constitutes the most basic intervention to cut transmission of infections, access to reliable energy that is necessary to safely carry out most medical procedures, and occupational protection for health workers.
Consider healthy energy transition
Over 90% of people breathe outdoor air with pollution levels exceeding WHO air quality guideline values. Two-thirds of this exposure to outdoor pollution results from the burning of the same fossil fuels that are driving climate change.
In fact, currently, over seven million people a year die from exposure to air pollution – that’s one out of eight deaths.
Energy infrastructure decisions taken now will provide positive impacts in decades to come. Countries that were most successful in controlling the disease, such as South Korea and New Zealand, have put green development alongside health at the heart of their COVID-19 recovery strategies. This decision will help improve air quality to an extent that the resulting health gains would repay the cost of clean energy investment twice over.
Switching to healthy, sustainable food systems
Diseases caused by either the lack of access to food or consumption of unhealthy diets are a key factor of global ill health. They also increase vulnerability to other risks. For instance, conditions such as obesity and diabetes are among the largest risk factors for illness and death from COVID-19.
Agriculture, particularly clearing of land to rear livestock, contributes about ¼ of global greenhouse gas emissions, and land use change is the single biggest environmental driver of new disease outbreaks. These are reasons why there is a need for a transition to healthier, as well as more nutritious and sustainable diets.
Build healthy, liveable cities.
Fact: over half of the world’s population are now based in cities – and they are responsible for over 60% of both economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions. With such high population and traffic density, it is suggested for more trips to be taken via public transport, walking and cycling, than by private cars. This also brings major health benefits through reducing air pollution, road traffic injuries – and the over three million annual deaths from physical inactivity.
Stricter government policies, for the better of humanity
Sometimes government bodies and organisations in power can play a role in helping kickstart better ways of life. Policies like placing a price on polluting fuels in line with the damage they cause can potentially and approximately halve outdoor air pollution deaths, cut greenhouse gas emissions by over a quarter, and raise about 4% of global GDP in revenue.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown that people will take part and participate in difficult policies – especially if decision-making is transparent, evidence-based, and inclusive, and has the clear aim of protecting the people’s health and livelihoods. It’s time to we stop paying the for selfish and profit-based needs, both through our health and pockets.