Genuine Environmental Protection Must Be the New Normal
The world currently faces an urgent biodiversity crisis. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services stated in a 2019 report that up to one million plant and animal species globally face extinction within decades because of human activities.
The Philippines is a world-renowned mega-biodiverse country but decades of environmental ravage and plunder by state-sanctioned large-scale enterprises such as logging, mining, agribusiness/plantations, overfishing, and reclamation have brought about widespread pollution and habitat destruction. These have caused the country to become one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, as marked by its fast-declining biodiversity.
Some of the so-called development projects that are being pursued with undue regard to environmental impacts include the San Miguel Corporation’s Aerotropolis in Manila Bay in the coasts of Bulacan, the China loan-funded Kaliwa Dam (New Centennial Water Source Project) under the Build, Build, Build program and the OceanaGold mining operations in Nueva Vizcaya. Manila Bay is a key biodiversity area, the Kaliwa Dam covers a protected area and the OceanaGold mining operates in an important ecological corridor. Despite having trailblazing environmental laws that are supposed to protect these areas, these projects are certain to inflict damages in ecosystems leading to impairment of ecological functions and services and biodiversity loss. Another overlooked consequence of this is an increased risk in the emergence of pathogens similar to today’s infamous coronavirus.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more than 60% of infectious diseases and 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans originated from animals (zoonotic), with more than 70% thereof coming from wild animals.
Evidence suggests that human-induced environmental changes such as deforestation, land-use conversion, intensified industrial agriculture and livestock production, illegal wildlife trade, and even climate change contribute to the emergence of infectious diseases. These wildlife disturbances increase the risk of spillover of potential pathogens and transmission to humans.
Conversely, fostering ecological integrity by protecting and nurturing biodiversity reduces risk of disease. While it may be difficult to predict where the next outbreak will come from or when it will be, its chance of occurring will be lessened by putting more effort in protection and conservation of biodiversity and the environment at large.
Along with our calls to replace the current militarist approach with a scientific, participatory and public health-driven strategy of addressing the COVID-19 crisis in the Philippines, we also call for the stop of activities and projects that further drive the environment and biodiversity to degradation. The ‘new normal’ must have the government practicing genuine environmental protection, veering away from the old business-as-usual natural resource utilization.