Updated: Jul 17, 2021
2020, the year no one will forget. Not because a decade is ending but, I guess, everyone knows the reason. This year witnessed thousands of events happening all around the world and the root cause of those events is the same, COVID-19. It changed our life upside down in every way. The economy of the
country was hit by lockdown. People lost their jobs; labor faced the tyranny of migrating back to their hometowns on foot. This pandemic has taken millions of lives, destroyed households and shut down the whole world for the first time in history. But with sore memories, there are sweet memories as well. People started spending more time with their families. They developed new skills, made creative videos, embarked the digital world. At one time, social media was flooded with pictures of home cooked food, new recipes, lockdown diaries. Dating apps never saw such increment in customer usage ever before. People stepping out from their corporate life, started showing their talents on YouTube, podcast apps, and social media. With this pandemic taking away lives, some people somehow started living their lives.
With changes in living and working conditions of people, there has been a progressive change in the environment’s condition as well. Worldwide spread of COVID-19 brought a dramatic decrease in industrial activities, road traffic and tourism. Restricted human interaction with nature during this crisis time appeared as a blessing for nature and environment. People termed it as “reset button” of nature. The pandemic surely did press the reset button as for a time being, all activities interfering environment came to a halt. India has always been a hub of pollution with huge population, heavy traffics and polluting industries leading to high air quality index (AQI) values in all major cities. But after declaration of lockdown due to COVID-19, quality of air started to improve and all other environmental parameters such as water quality in rivers started giving a positive sign towards restoring. Considering the water bodies, the improvement in the quality of number of rivers of India including Ganga, Cauvery, Sutlej and Yamuna etc., the primary cause was lack of industrial effluents entering the rivers due to lockdown situation. Many other factors also contributed in enhancing the quality of the rivers like high snowfall now melting with summer, reduction of irrigation water demand, above average rainfall and also human born factors including reduction of religious and cultural activities like puja, bathing, cremations on the banks of the rivers.
COVID-19 gave the nature a “healing time” with reduced human interference in natural environment. Smog gave way to blue skies in cities like Delhi, marine life saw increased activity, pollution level dropped in almost all the metro cities and birds chirping filled the environment with melodious sounds.
But as life is coming back on track, blue skies are again covered by smog; birds have again gone back to their nests. People are now more suffocated between putting on mask and breathing in polluted air.
People living in these corona times have even prepared their stories for next generation about their experiences and sufferings. But considering the current environment situation, who knows how healthy our next generation would be. We have planned our stories but when things started rolling, we forgot about reset of nature and again started exploiting it as carelessly for next generation as ever.
Speaking of generations, there is a beautiful story of living root bridges in Meghalaya, how a generation leaves a beautiful gift for their next generation.
Meghalaya or say whole north east India is known for its natural beauty. The rubber plantation in the state is immense. Also, it is the wettest place in the world which leads to heavy storms and floods as well. Man-made bridges are unable to withstand rough storms and decay quickly. So, to counter this problem, Khasi community of Meghalaya turned towards growing bridges rather than building it. They turned to the plant known as Indian rubber plant which has aerated roots that can be tied, twisted, and shaped into bridge-like structures. It takes the bridge 10 to 30 years to form from those roots which are strong enough to live long for centuries and hold 35 people on it at a time. While no one knows when the first living root bridge were created, written records of the structures appear as early as over 100 years ago. These kinds of inventions are also known as “living architecture”. Khasi people of Meghalaya didn’t grow these bridges for their present use rather to protect their future generation and sustain their environment. They left this gift of nature for generations to come. In literal sense, this bridge is between two ends but metaphorically, it is the bridge between past and sustainable future.
Coming to urban metro cities, well you know the story there. Forget about future generation, we are not even able to sustain the present generation. COVID-19 showed us how polluted free cities would look like and we loved it but it could last for few months, the time when everyone was forced to remain inside their homes. Once people are out of their homes, we can see the conditions getting back to worse.
In 2015, United Nations member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The SDGs replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which started in 2000 with the aim to tackle cruelty of poverty. For 15 years, MDGs made progress in reducing poverty, providing access to water and sanitation, improving maternal health and driving down child mortality. SDGs were introduced to continue the legacy of MDGs and take the world to more sustainable path. The Sustainable Development Goals for the next decade are:
· No poverty
· Zero hunger
· Good health and well-being
· Quality education
· Gender equality
· Clean water and sanitation
· Affordable and clean energy
· Decent work and economic growth
· Industry, innovation and infrastructure
· Reduced inequalities
· Sustainable cities and communities
· Responsible consumption and production
· Climate action
· Life below water
· Peace, justice & strong institutions
· Partnerships for the goals
These 17 goals are integrated in such a way that one action will lead to various outcomes. The development must balance between social, economic and environmental sustainability. And these goals are not just the responsibility of UN or political parties of countries or people at authorized designations. The responsibility falls on each and every individual of the planet. Khasi people of Meghalaya have proven that treating nature in respectable way can become beneficial for our own. Then why can’t we follow that? Why can’t we create that reset button of nature again? Why do we have to suffocate ourselves between mask and polluted air?
The truth is that everyone appreciates chirping of birds, breathing in fresh air, beautiful sunsets with blue skies but no one wants to put some efforts in making it possible. Everyone thinks that someone else will do something and then we will enjoy. We all want to be free rider. But environment is a shared responsibility. One person can’t change the world. It’s us who has to make the bridge between past and sustainable future.