Environmental Development and Social Justice Initiatives

COVID 19 PANDEMIC: Implication for the environment

Coronavirus disease (COVID 19) pandemic is a novel disease that is ravaging nations across the earth today. So much has been heard about its virulent nature. It’s a pandemic, which means an outbreak of a disease that has spread across a large region, for instance across nations and multiple continents. Statistics as at today, World Health Day, April 7, 2020 15.45 GMT reveal coronavirus cases worldwide; 1,379,168 confirmed cases, 294,419 recovered and 78,223 deaths (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/) , while confirmed cases in Nigeria (NCDC) are 238 with 35 recovering and 5 deaths confirmed. COVID 19 is a major concern to nations across the world.

While we are desirous of the plague coming to an end soon, we cannot deny the fact that it has caused a lot of damage with; lives lost, businesses closed, economy of nations affected. The psychological impact to the people and economic impacts to various institutions cannot be over-emphasized. Thus, with the growing number of new cases and death, it is not out of place to be worried over the level of preparedness of the nations to cope with the pandemic.

Government of various Nations across the globe, Nigeria inclusive have so far stepped up emergency response and preparedness, public awareness and sensitization among others as ways to curb the spread of COVID 19. But do we have sufficient testing kits and centres to match with the population and level of exposure? How well have people complied with government regulations to curb the spread as well as the hygiene practice? What is the capacity of the various health facilities to manage cases at this very point in time?

Amidst several areas of concern, EDSI considers it of interest to point out how activities associated with this pandemic would impact on our environment as it continues to spread.

There are 5 major environmental problems in the world and these are Ozone Depletion, Global Warming; Desertification; Deforestation; Loss of Biodiversity; Disposal of Wastes. You may want to know how any of these is associated with COVID 19 or can be exacerbated by the pandemic and possibly, if there will be an emerging environmental problem as a result of COVID 19.

While most of the above environmental problems will not directly arise from the COVID 19 pandemic, one major issue stands out. Waste Disposal! When there is any change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from any activity be it human, industrial or services, there is environmental impact.

Indeed, we human impacts on the physical environment in so many ways. As a result of the pandemic, there will be huge collection of medical items and consequently, huge medical wastes generated not only for hospitals but for households as well. The concern here is how these medical wastes will be disposed without contaminating the environment.

Individuals, households and institutions are now dealing with new kind of problems which include managing potentially contaminated wastes: used masks, gloves, wipes, empty containers of sanitizers, waste water from hand washing, hand towel, laboratory reagents, drugs, used testing kits etc. Proper handling of household waste is also an issue to be taken seriously as contaminated household wastes can easily be mixed with domestic garbage and then become source of reinfection or environmental nuisance.

Fumigation of facilities is an appropriate tool in public health intervention as it helps in pest control and elimination of organisms capable of causing disease, but it is not effective for wide area spraying and for cleaning contaminated surfaces as required in the case of COVID 19. Nevertheless, it is important to use environmentally –friendly fumigants that do not cause ozone- layer –depletion and also manage the empty containers which are potentially hazardous.

It is good to revamp the health sector including equipping health facilities in readiness for the pandemic, but emphasis must be placed on medical waste disposal facilities especially now that more medical wastes will be generated than before.

In the final analysis, the physical environment can be affected and waste disposal will be a problem if households and medical wastes churned out as far as this COVID 19 pandemic is concerned, are not properly managed; as well as air quality, if environmentally –friendly fumigants are not used. The soil, water bodies and air will be contaminated and this can in turn affect the ecosystem.

It is therefore recommended that best practice be applied in fumigation exercise while the waste management authorities come up with guidance for proper waste handling and waste management including waste water, in accordance with International best practices.

Ms. G. Fayomi

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