CHUKS OYEMA-AZIKEN examines the interaction between Covid-19 and the environment and how relevant stakeholders are responding to the pandemic.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in it’s latest update on the status of coronavirus in the country stated that as of Saturday midnight cases recorded stand at 1171 deaths with 110 new cases in the country. The infections brought the total number of cases in the country to 67330.
Many say lockdown due to COVID-19 had both positive and negative effects on the environment.
On the positive side, there was improved Global Air Quality due to reduction in human activities, with less cars, boats in the water, and a reduction in air pollution, urban areas.
According to Khalid El Dokani, Country CEO, Lafarge Africa “The world is suddenly breathing fresh air due to the pandemic-induced decline in economic activities such as transportation and manufacturing.
However, some negative impacts on the environment came to the fore. This include increased plastic demand for use in the production of disposable medical masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment has surged during the pandemic, with many consumers littering their PPE after use.
With the lockdown lifted in Nigeria, and for fear of contacting Covid-19, we see an increase in single driver vehicles on the road, which is very bad for the environment.
The recent upsurge in traffic on the Keffi-Abuja Expressway and some other roads attest to this.
Nigeria is not an exception in both the positive and negative effects of the Covid-19.
While acknowledging the challenges in battling COVID-19, Minister of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Abubakar said that “human interaction with the ecosystem must remain balanced, otherwise we will risk disrupting nature which have consequences as we are seeing in the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Speaking at a Press briefing in Abuja on 04 June 2020 to commemorate World Environment Day 2020 organized by the Federal Ministry of Environment (FMENV), the minister said “biodiversity is the foundation for life with co-benefits of strengthening global healthcare support systems, hence we must ensure that Post COVID recovery is tied in with our Climate actions and Sustainable Development Goals.
The Federal Ministry of Environment as part of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, was quick to acknowledge and immediately moved into action, working with it’s relevant agencies and partners.
According to the Minister “our Ministry has carried out disinfection and decontamination of over 200 public and private premises across the country. I have also directed the Environmental Health Officers in the ministry and those in the states and LGAs to commence an environmental health surveillance of all MDAs, schools and other public places and ensure compliance to COVID-19 guidelines and protocols especially in the areas of provision of hand washing facilities, use of hand sanitizers, face masks etc.”
At another fora, the minister described handwashing as the most effective check against the Coronavirus pandemic.
Abubakar said “Fortunate enough, the most effective protection from this ravaging and devastating pandemic we are confronted with, is washing our hands with soap.
“Appropriate and regular washing of hands keep us healthy and prevent the spread of respiratory and diarrheal infections from person to person. This is because hands serve as a vehicle for transmitting pathogens of respiratory infections, Faeco-oral diseases and Covid-19 virus.
The Ministry through the Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON) also donated fumigation machines, face masks and hand sanitisers to Nigeria Correctional Service, Kuje, FCT.
At the venue Dr Baba Yakubu, Registrar, EHORECON, said the council in collaboration with the ministry, will ensure that Nigerians feel the presence of all environmental health officials especially in the Covid-19 era.
Yakubu said that sanitary inspectors, through the directive from the ministry, have been spread across the country to ensure that COVID-19 and other chronic diseases are prevented.
He said that EHORECON has enough manpower for effective service delivery, adding that recently, the environment minister also deployed 60,000 voluntary environmental health workers in 774 LGAs across the country.
As part of the steps towards refocusing on environment issues in the COVID-19 epidemic response in Nigeria, FMENV has set up a National Forestry Trust Fund under the forestry Department of the Ministry in partnership with the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and the World Wildlife Foundation (WFF).
The Federal Ministry of Environment has also received support and commendation from the WHO, who estimates that 29% of the country’s disease burden is linked to risk factors in the environment.
The WHO said that “recent occurrences, like the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrate the interrelationship between the environment and human health as well as the need to strengthen eessential environmental health services, knowledge and national capacities fundamental for achieving universal health coverage.”
Commending the Ministry, Dr Fiona Braka, WHO Nigeria Officer In-Charge, noted a strong response, especially for taking charge of disinfection of premises/assets, decontamination of health facilities, safe burial practices and other priority interventions.
WHO has continued to support the FMENV led Training of Trainers (TOT) on Disinfection and Decontamination of Health and non-health settings against the pandemic. WHO also supported the training of 36 states environmental surveillance officers on Infection Prevention and Control (Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection) against COVID-19, and remained committed in strengthen environmental response to Lassa Fever and other emerging diseases as well as addressing other environmental determinants of health.
While the FMEnv, its agencies and other relevant Ministries make efforts to check spread of the pandemic and effects on the economy, El Dokani recommends that the commitment to protect the environment must not be overlooked.
“This commitment must be at the heart of the corporate strategies and economic policies being designed to stimulate economic growth during and beyond the pandemic.
“This is as important for developing countries such as Nigeria that have less resources to grapple with the effects of global warming, such as rising sea levels as it is for richer countries in the West.”