The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of our dysfunctional relationship with nature. This realisation first emerged after the subsequent lockdown of Hubei Province, as satellite images from the NASA space station showed the dramatic reduction of pollution following just a months lockdown. The drop in concentrations, coinciding with the nationwide quarantine is in significant contrast to emissions produced during China’s ‘business as usual’. In China, air pollution causes an estimated 1.1 million deaths per year and costs the Chinese economy $38 billion, whilst worldwide air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people.
The chief Environmental Economist at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) explains how it is pandemics like Covid-19 that reveal the fundamental trade-off we constantly face. What it really shows is the trade-off between a consumption-driven society that continues to interfere with nature to satisfy its own needs. Humans have unlimited needs, but the planet has limited capacity to satisfy them.
As lockdowns are enforced across the world, humans are temporarily excluded from public and open spaces. During this time, nature has become more visible and our collective impact on the natural world is more noticeable by its absence.
According to the World Economic Forum, half of the world’s GDP is highly or moderately dependent on nature, so the restoration of these dilapidating landscapes could actually provide jobs and contribute to the general economy. It has been stated that for every dollar spent on nature restoration, at least $9 of economic benefits can be expected.
Climate Change is a pertinent issue, and in light of the recent coronavirus crisis, it is important that at this stage we consider a better mechanism for boosting jobs and growth whilst significantly reducing carbon emissions. An increase in conservation and restoration in the context of integrated land management is required.
Natural Capital, ecosystem services and other similar approaches have a tremendous potential to help society realise the value that nature provides for humans. At Keystone, we envision that the most significant change can be achieved through land regeneration. By reducing the pressures on natural resources and the local environment, we are also able to improve food security, diversify and increase incomes for rural farmers, and build the capacity for effective institutions that contribute to gender equity. Replenishing their Natural Capital will not only aid their transition to a green economy, but will deliver vital ecosystem services that benefit society and conserve the natural heritage that underpins their entire economy.
COVID-19 is exposing and exacerbating gender inequalities around the world. For many, the root cause of violence against women and girls is gender inequality - the unequal power relations between women and men, and the systems and social norms that perpetuate them. With this in mind, the recent quarantine measures imposed as a response to the pandemic are putting girls and women at heightened risk of violence in the home, and cutting them off from essential protection services and social networks.
Over the past three weeks, it has been reported that there has been a considerable increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines. Whilst we are lucky enough to have various hotline services available, many women who find themselves at home with an abuser will find it much more difficult to make a call.
Similarly, in Kenya, the current restrictions imposed make it much harder to report abuse and seek help. Schools are generally safe spaces for girls as they provide a channel through which violations can be reported and subsequent action taken. According to Kenyan government data, 45% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence, and 14% have experience sexual violence, emphasising how domestic abuse is a daily reality for women and girls across Kenya.
This pandemic is wreaking havoc around the world, not only because it is a global health crisis, but because it has shut down the key places for safeguarding girls and women from sexual and labor exploitation, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, early pregnancy, and forced marriage. These unequal power relations are deeply embedded in society, and are the driving force of violence, which can so easily be exacerbated when they cannot escape their reality. As such, the impact of COVID-19 will have far-reaching and devastating consequences for households across the continent, particularly where there is minimal social welfare provision available.