Relationship Between Water, Sanitation, Climate Change, And Covid-19

Our planet is no stranger to life threatening calamities. The oceans boiled over, the skies rained fire and the Earth froze cold; yet life always found a way. Mother Nature was well used to tipping things back into order.

By Shayyan Khalid

In comparison, humans are quite new to this repetitive trend of destruction and restoration. It is the infancy of mankind in this age-old story of the Universe that has made our current predicament so complicated and gotten us past the point of natural healing. 

Water means life. It really is that simple. As one of the fundamental elements that contribute to our planet being capable of supporting life, water is the basis of several biological processes. The Water Cycle has maintained the volume of water in perfect balance since the Earth’s conception. The factor that causes imbalance, though, is us – humans. Mankind has been able to advance in its innovations more than any other species. Yet, all our development has still led us to overlook how the everyday actions of each individual leaves a lasting mark upon the natural order.

Be it unplanned urbanization, overpopulation or just plain neglect and ignorance, the one constant we had has turned into our biggest need. The amount of clean, usable water is depleting at an alarming rate. Pollution has poisoned freshwater resources and forced people to adapt to long-lasting thirst, droughts, and unsanitary living conditions. Flourishing industries do not put nearly as much care into sanitation and proper disposal of the toxic waste being produced as they should, their outlets turning out to be rivers, seas, and oceans.  

Science and technology speak of the deliverance of miracles, of a world filled with ease, without realizing that everything comes at a cost. The abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has led to the depletion of the ozone layer and warming of the Earth. Polar ice caps are melting, the oceans are rising, the summers are harsher and the weather unpredictably chaotic. Altogether, it is a dangerous change in the Earth’s climate. The people fighting to make a change do not possess the means to make a strong impact and, thus, bad becomes worse and worse becomes irreversible.

So far, all these problems go hand in hand.  As the drive to achieve better standards of modern life increases, so do environmental threats. Lack of clean water decreases the access to proper sanitation. These conditions are the metaphorical and literal breeding grounds for disease causing bacteria and viruses. How does this bring us to perhaps the biggest crisis of the last twenty years?

The virus that originated in the Wuhan province of China in late 2019 spread in almost no time to every corner of the Earth, causing a global pandemic. This chain of events that began in the December of 2019, when the first case of the virus was reported, caused a global shift in socio-economic policies.

The COVID-19 disease causes a range of symptoms including mild to fatal respiratory problems. Over one-hundred million cases were confirmed in the span of a year, of which two million lost their lives. With nations trying their hardest to tackle this problem, making new rules, imposing a global lockdown, and investing millions in developing vaccines, only one line of defense remained clear: washing hands.

But when a third of the entire global population remains without access to a clean water supply, is it the extremely contagious virus we should blame for the pandemic? Or ourselves?

Pakistan has had over half a million cases of COVID-19. Even though the initial response was well-timed, our country has millions of people without access to sanitation and unplanned civic areas with no waste disposal systems. The only hope now remains in a country-wide vaccination drive, which will prove to be an even greater challenge as richer nations race to stock up on already limited vaccine supplies.  

Why is this pandemic coercing this dramatic reaction? Well, for the first time, humans are under a direct threat. It is visible to the whole world how doing nothing will lead to larger masses infected and more lives lost. While all the previous crises also put humans under threat of extinction, it was always a future occurrence. “In several years”, “If we do not act now” and other such phrases made people feel like they were not under imminent threat and thus, they did not see the need to act immediately. This mindset is our greatest drawback, what has caused things to go so out of hand. If a country like Pakistan had taken heed of the threat to the environment caused by pollution and raised caution, the nation would have been an example of how even developing countries can conquer the most gruelling situations.

It is clear that this pandemic is the product of our past neglect. Biologically, the virus can only mutate if it is given the chance, through existing in a suitable host. By allowing the conditions of our planet to deteriorate and polluting our water reserves we continue to allow threats like this evolve. But, even though human action has caused such imbalance in nature, it is the humans that can help restore it. With a joint effort towards changing our lifestyles and prioritizing natural balance as much as possible, mankind just might be able to reverse the damage it has caused.

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