DIAZ: A silver lining amidst COVID-19 pandemic

DIAZ: A silver lining amidst COVID-19 pandemic

The better part of Sunday April 12 saw the majority of social media platforms remain awash with doctored images showing Mt. Kenya as supposedly seen from Nairobi’s Westlands estate.

The images serving as a mockery to climate change activists who were claimed to credit the improving climatic conditions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the memes, even Mount Kilimanjaro was the background of the Nairobi’s skyline.

As a conservationist with love for the amazing African continent, we are seeing the snow peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro lose snow.

Scientists debate that by 2030, the ‘Kibo’ peak will not have any snow – you don’t want to miss this spectacular icon by air or climbing the mountain post Corona times.

The earth is breathing

However-mockery or not, the earth is breathing again and its link to the ongoing global health emergency is no coincidence or stuff of fate.

Reports from India show that the Himalayas are now visible from parts of the Asian sub-continent while the snow caps on Mount Kilimanjaro are now visible from the Tsavo West National Park with the observations here being far from works of fiction.

In Italy, dolphins have returned to the show as majority of citizens in the country remain under lockdown; clearer skies are now evident across cities including Paris, New York and New Delhi.

As factories shutdown operations with most economies going into lockdown, the brakes have been slammed on pollution with the seizure on industrial production seemingly putting halting the advancement on climate change.

Already, air quality data across the European Union (EU) is indicative of cleaner air records in areas adjacent to heavy industries which came under lock and key during the early parts of the pandemic.

Travel restrictions have similarly reduced the carbon footprint as the majority of motor vehicles and aircraft fleets remain in garages and hangars.

The dependency on petroleum fuels is now down forcing many oil exporting countries and firms to stare at an uncertain future as the disruptions cuts the demand for fuel to the bottom.

According to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) crude oil demand fell by more than 30 million barrels a day in the first three months of 2020 to mirror the steep fall in the dependency on dirty fuels.

Illegal trade

The virtual cleansing of eco-systems is further seen in China’s prohibition of illegal wild life trade as the COVID-19 pandemic traces its roots to a wet market in Wuhan City.

While conspiracy theories rage on with regards to the source of the SARS-COV-2 virus, its connection to the market saw China order a freeze on the sale and consumption of wild animals and a subsequent decree to ban the trade completely on February 24.

The move to ban the trade was contrary to practice as China has for the past 40 years promoted wild animal trade as a form of rural economic development.

The decree titled ‘Comprehensively Prohibiting the Illegal Trade of Wild Animals, Eliminating the Bad Habits of Wild Animal Consumption, and Protecting the Health and Safety of the People’ clearly depicts the Chinese government’s moment of reckoning: a nod to its hand in years of illegality which now haunts the entire globe.

Thousands of wildlife farms raising animals such as porcupines, civets and turtles have since been shut down while authorities quoted the indictment of at least 700 individuals on violations to the prohibitions during the first two weeks of February.

United Nations estimates that up to $23 billion worth of rhino horns, elephant tusks, tiger bones, bear bile and other wildlife by-products illicitly change hands every year – this creates triple threat to economic activities and deprive governments of revenues.

On diseases, World Organization for Animal Health estimated that 60 percent of known human diseases originated in animals and public discussion around COVID-19 has focused on the potential role of the illegal wildlife trade in spreading pathogens.

Zoonotic diseases, those that make the leap from animals to humans, from HIV and Ebola to SARs and COVID-19 appear to be on the rise – the wildlife trade is partly to blame, but any activity that puts people near wild animals harboring diseases, for which humans are unlikely to carry immunity, poses a risk.

Wild animals must be left in nature and not be killed to be eaten and regulations need to be globally strict or totally stopped.

Turning point

According to the World Wildlife Federation, around 55 African elephants are caught by poachers every day – staggering numbers and should be a worry to African governments.

It’s not an option, to protect the gains African states have made to conserve the wildlife, governance must tighten and corruption must be wiped out to completely do away with poaching crisis. If left unchecked, the effects will be profound.

With the slamming of brakes on pollution and illegal wildlife trade being just but examples of the pandemic’s silver lining, the world must now endeavor to pave the way for the better management of ecosystems-as the opportunity now presents itself.

Emerging and Developing Countries such as Kenya must now take the lead to turn over a new leaf as they suffer the most from the vices in spite of making minimalist contributions to the environmental violations.

For instance, Sub-Sahara Africa States bare the heat of climate change in spite of the larger share of pollution emerging from developed states.

As Kenya faces up to floods and its worst desert locust invasion in 70 years, government and civil society must now endeavor to change affairs for the better lest fall into deeper crises in the future.

According to a 1992 report dubbed ‘Beyond the Limits’, humanity’s future will not be determined by a single emergency but many separate related crisis.

Safeguarding future

Kenya must therefore separate itself from politicking in climate change and illegal trade to safeguard its own future and that of the region.

A 2019 report by the International Food Policy Research Institute dubbed the Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) warns of irreversible ecosystem losses should climate change, deforestation, land degradation and water pollution becomes the norm.

While tracking the cost of climate change has proven to be an odious task, research contained in The Economist Intelligence Units (EIU) climate change resilience index tabulates the cost of climate change at $7.9 trillion (Ksh. 845trillion) or an equivalent 88 times of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

At the same time, Kenya lies on the cross hairs of illegal animal trade as trophies from its remaining elephants and rhinos remain in international markets.

The country must therefore advocate for wildlife conservation as its wealth of wild animals remains intertwined with the survival of human life and livelihoods.

While the pandemic ravages through the economy, the government must find space for policy change. The opportunity to impact better reforms for the management of eco-systems must not be lost on us.

Globally, we would challenge the youth and global leaders, to work together to ensure that we come up with a global policy on stopping illegal poaching of wildlife indefinitely as a way of taking control of our global economy by ensuring that we never get entangled in such a catastrophic mess in the future.

Chris Diaz is Business Leader and a Conservationist @DiazChrisAfrica