How healthy would you want mother Earth to be after COVID-19 pandemic? 

“Did we need a virus to teach us how to wash hands, to sneeze properly, respect social distancing, and being locked home to reflect on all of our social and global challenges?”
Aina Altair Andriambola, Global Challenges student | African Leadership University

When I started being aware of the gravity of today’s world pandemic which is COVID-19 by February 2020, I did not realize that one month later it would be one catalyst of change to the environmental crisis we have been talking about everywhere on social media and in the World’s within the past years. 

On my side, the effect of COVID-19 was only noticed directly in my community from March 16th. My school -the African Leadership University(ALU)- decided to close its campus for the safety of the ALU community, a week later my country -Madagascar- decided to close its border on March 20th to minimize the risk of spreading the virus (L’Express de Madagascar, 2020), and Rwanda decided to put its citizen into lockdown after few cases were confirmed in the country on March 14th (NewTimes Rwanda, 2020). This pandemic is surely the most trending and stressing news we have and will have on the headlines for the next 3 months but let us make a shift and take a closer look at how mother Earth is doing since all this global health crisis started.

In October 2018, according to the United Nations report on Climate Change, the world remains with 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe before it hits a point of no return. This was one of the news that empowered global activism happening across the globe around climate justice and reinforced different communities, associations, and international organizations to reconsider their objectives and politics to tackle this global challenge which is climate action. One of the initiatives that fast spread was “Fridays For Future” led by Greta Thunberg in August 2018. She is a young lady that believes in the importance of protecting the environment in order to create a stable future for the next generation, and there are many climate activists like her, so far she has been the one moving mountains within the past 6 months because of how urgent she believes climate action is. 

As I share with you in this article, I believe in the ideal that everyone is responsible for protecting the environment and can make a difference even if we cannot come up with a perfect solution. There are other young people such as Vic Barrett, John Paul Jose and Isra Hirsi who are joining this climate action but also the Fridays For Future movement in their respective countries (Earth Day, 2020). So far, in the news and in all social media posts I have seen, I remain in awe of the “Greta effect” and admire how she has an individual managed to have different youth and climate activists from across the world buying into her noble cause. Her sudden influence on the world stage has been a critical point that made a shift on how the world leader’s are foreseeing this global challenge and how they make decisions towards it (The Guardian, 2019).  On the African continent, we also have Makenna Muigai and Vanessa Nakete from Uganda who are trying hard to be heard by the entire world in term of African climate activism (The Giardian, 2020).

Source: Vamessa Nakate’s tweet after she was cropped out of a press photo in Davos, 2020

Shifting into what is happening globally, a third of the world’s population is on corona virus lockdown or some form of restrictions to slow down the risk of spreading the virus and decrease the death toll (Business Insider, 2020). Large group gatherings are being prohibited, and most of the workspaces, public spaces/institutions and schools are closed until further notice . As a sky lover, it became a habit for me to take a picture of the horizon wherever I go.

(c) “Clear sky” Aina A. Andriambola, Antananrivo, Madagascar, March 2020

I am particularly fascinated by how the sky is evolving and changing every day and hour but one thing that remains constant is the beauty that is projected from the firmament. Looking up, I started noticing a change in the dynamic I usually take pictures of on March 18th, 2020. The sky is becoming clearer day by day, and we feel that the air is not as heavy nor polluted as it usually is in the capital city of Antananarivo. I am wondering if it’s that way everywhere? Is the air purifying? Is the Earth ecosystem rebooting? Are there positive effects of the covid-19 -because of the lockdown- on the environment?

We all know that this all started in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the coronavirus which is also known as an industrial hub. Due to different restrictions undertaken by the government, the air-pollution level of the village has come down by 21.5 per cent (China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, 2020). This is partially because of the lock-down but also the reduced production of oil and steel in the local factories and less domestic flights (Travel and Leisure India, 2020). While in Venice, it has been more than 60 days since its lock down that tourists have not been seen in the floating city (France 24,2020). And mother nature is taking back its place, swan and dolphins are swimming in the clear canals while humans are staying home safe. In other places, a city like New York has registered a 50 per cent decline in carbon monoxide levels, a significant decrease in carbon footprint mainly caused by car emission (Travel and Leisure India, 2020). These are proof that Covid-19 and mother Earth are collaborating together to fix the environmental damage left behind by human activity within the past 100 years, though scientists are working tirelessly at finding a vaccine for the sake of global healthcare, the environment is taking a break from human’s wheel of progression. In different cities of the world, wild animals started to go have some tours in the city and they started making it a temporary home. While you are experiencing this quarantine,take some time to appreciate some fresh air, a few minutes exposed to some vitamin D, to do some gardening, to start a recycling project within your home, to learn how to reduce food wastage, and prioritize a more responsible and sustainable lifestyle towards the environment.  You will then understand why all of this is making sense for the sake of the environment.

In the past 4 months, we have seen the positive effect of this pandemic on the environment, but how far will this go? Sooner or later, human activity will take place again, though some people will need more time to transition to a sort of “new world”, heal from different trauma, human activity will somehow remain the same. Are we going to learn from this global health challenge which is affecting different  sectors such as the tourism industry, education, healthcare system, governance, and the economics of the country -the world at large? Will our actions be more oriented towards a sustainable living? How many will notice the positive effect of our lock-downs on the environment, when all of this is over? Since the first pandemic which was the Antonine Plague (165 AD), every pandemic has been considered as an event that shaped the future of humanity. How is this current generation going to shape Tomorrow from what Covid-19 has taught ? Will we have an ideal world where we consider climate action as a priority and adjust our system towards a smart tourism industry, sustainable aviation movements, and so on?

Only tomorrow will tell us, but you and I have a huge role to play to slow down the side effects of human activity on the environment to save a more liveable planet for the next generation to come. People across the globe tend to believe that covid-19 has done so much for the environment in 4 months more than what different activists did within years (Twitter, 2020). Did we need a virus to teach us how to wash hands, to sneeze properly, respect social distancing, and being locked home to reflect on all of this global challenge? One thing that I am sure of is that I will continue taking my pictures and see how far our ecosystem and atmosphere is changing. What about you?

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