Why COVID-19 probably won’t save the environment, but could actually make it worse

Covid 19 environmental impact

The thing I find saddest and most difficult about COVID-19 is that it is going to affect the poorest and the most vulnerable people on this planet. It’s not going to choose to knock off the greedy big wigs on Wall Street, or the billionaire oil companies.

With factories shutting and pollution levels dropping it might seem like there could be a silver lining to this tragic pandemic. However, COVID-19 is an awfully selective virus effecting the weakest and is actually going to make tackling the worlds biggest problems of poverty and climate change that much harder, not easier. 

A refugee camp in Greece has just confirmed their first cases of COVID-19, people there live in close quarters with share toilets. People who live in these camps and others in poverty face major issues daily. On top of their chronic stress, which weakens the immune response, they have limited or no access to medical care, many have deficiencies and existing diseases which make it even more difficult to tackle any additional infection. 

A general view of the olive grove next to the official camp of Moria. At the moment, 13,000 people stranded in a camp designed to host just 3,000. People in the olive grove have to share their tents with other people with whom, they don’t have any previous relationship. The level of hygiene is very low and people have to share a toilet with another 90 people and a shower with 200. When it rains the tents are getting wet and the area turns into a muddy swamp. MSF team in the pediatric clinic in Moria see an average of 100 children and pregnant women per day. Currently, with the recent increase of arrivals, our team is struggling to respond to the need that arising. Most of the children our teams see are suffering from diseases which are directly connected with the living conditions such, respiratory tract infections, skin diseases, fever and diarrhoea. We also receive children with chronic and complex medical cases who need specialized attention that is not available. Yet, they have to spend months living in unhygienic and unsafe conditions before they are moved to the mainland in order to get the much-needed treatment.

Poverty & Environmental Issues

One of the most efficient ways we can address our global environmental issues is to elevate people from poverty, people who fear the future and live one day do not worry about burning plastic or using coal. This poverty doesn’t have to be limited to refugee camps but also include those in the UK or America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 15% of Americans live in poverty. That’s 46.2 million people!

Though it seems counterintuitive, we only have the capacity to grow greener and cleaner if we develop economically and make the right political decisions. We need to be in a position where we are able to imagine a tomorrow before we can start trying to protect it.

Worryingly COVID-19 has the capacity to leave thousands of people, if not millions, without jobs increasing global poverty. As borders close and we all stay home many remote regions will struggle with the lack of opportunities that tourism and trade usually bring, moreover international aid and support is going to become even more difficult. 

As a consequence of this pandemic environmental issues and sustainable development goals are going to take a massive back seat. And as poverty increases our chances of environmental sustainability decrease. It might look wonderful right now while we living in our isolation bubbles and take an ‘economic break’. Clean air, animals wandering around, however, these are short term gains with unknown long term effects.

In the long run, COVID-19 could have unprecedented effects not just economically but also on our long term efforts to achieve environmental sustainability. 

Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts!