Sunday, December 05, 2021

Editorial: Restoring ecology in the pandemic

GREEN COMMITMENT. Governments should include in pandemic recovery plans and funds for restoring the ecology, a mindset that seems to be strikingly absent in the public discourse on how communities plot post-pandemic futures. (SunStar file)

Last June 5, World Environment Day, amongst the stream of images and posts on social media was Nena Jane Achacoso’s challenge to other citizens to plant six trees per month, “enough to compensate for the CO2 emissions we produce.”

Reflecting on a report uploaded on the Rainforest Action Network’s (RAN) website that “approximately 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees” are cut every year, the University of Philippines Cebu alumna and digital content producer said in a June 5 post on Facebook that planting and caring for six trees a month is her personal commitment to “plant the seed for a better tomorrow.”

This year’s World Environment Day ushers in the United Nations (UN) Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), which seeks to “reimagine, recreate, (and) restore” ecosystems that crucially determine survival and sustainability.

Ecosystem loss does not just mean wrecking disaster on animals but also creating “ideal conditions for pathogens — including coronaviruses — to spread,” pointed out the UN.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic also strains the ecology through the drastic increase of plastic pollution with the pandemic-generated production and disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning and sanitizing agents.

Not only are some types of PPE, like face masks and gloves, intended to be used only once and discarded immediately for safety, local government units (LGUs) should be pushed to provide proper PPE for street cleaners, garbage collectors and other frontliners serving in solid waste management.

In 2000, the Climate Change Commission sounded off LGUs about enforcing the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (ESWM), particularly the mandate that households initiate waste segregation and LGUs collect only segregated waste.

Is there monitoring and enforcement to ensure families separately bag PPE from other household waste? Outside of hospitals, many public areas, especially vaccination centers, do not have receptacles designated for PPE waste.

The lax enforcement of proper disposal of PPE waste puts at risk frontline workers who clean and dispose of garbage, a sector ironically made more vulnerable while maintaining sanitation and preserving public safety.

Many individuals and nongovernment organizations produce reusable masks that generate needed livelihood for many, especially women, displaced by the pandemic while avoiding the single use of disposable masks. Citizens who are not in the medical frontline must patronize these reusable masks to help reduce plastic pollution.

Another change brought about by the pandemic is the surge in online businesses, from food to retail, which generates more plastic packaging.

Companies and consumers should agree about doing away with disposable plastic cutlery and plastic straws for home deliveries of food. Work-from-home arrangements mean access to utensils, plates, napkins and other products that are washed and reused.

While the actions of citizens, groups and sectors contribute incrementally to the global campaign to “reimagine, recreate and restore” ecosystems, governments must lead and steer stakeholders in the planning and allocation of funds to balance economic recovery with ecological restoration.

Philippine leaders should learn from the initiatives made by other nations, such as Pakistan, which hires the unemployed to plant saplings and sustain the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami programme launched in 2018, and Ethiopia, which launched green jobs tapping citizens to plant seedlings in a bid to double its forest cover by 2030.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, political commitment is crucial for channeling civic engagement in surfacing during the Covid-19 pandemic opportunities for restoring ecological systems and providing employment for citizens displaced in the recession.


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