Pandemic and Environment Burden

Friday, 26/06/2020YogyakartaIka Yulia Wijayanti, S.E., M.Sc.


Regional quarantine and activity restrictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic had a positive impact on improving air quality globally. However, the real pandemic shows the fundamental problems being faced by the environment.

For example, Jakarta had experienced a decrease in levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) sourced from motor vehicles during the period from February to March. Unfortunately, this only lasted a short time. Motor vehicle congestion with the introduction of new normal conditions will bring CO2 levels back to the normal range.

Improved air quality during the quarantine of the region is difficult to maintain for longer because the changes that occur are not structural in nature such as the shift in the use of fossil-based high energy pollutants to energy sources that are more environmentally friendly. The fall in world oil prices due to reduced demand also confirms this fact.

Even if the reduction in pollution levels can be maintained, the benefits will be far greater. Research by Marshall Burke, a Stanford University professor, shows that decreasing air pollution during regional quarantine will save humans from premature deaths due to pollution exposure in greater numbers than deaths caused by Covid-19 in China. The results of the study are expected to be an evaluation of human behavior in normal conditions that burden the environment.

During the pandemic, the movement to reduce plastic waste tends to be ruled out because of people's fear that the virus can survive on certain objects for some time. The use of masks and disposable gloves by the general public also contributes to increasing household waste.

Meanwhile, the handling of Covid-19 patients has consequences for the abundance of medical waste. The Indonesian Ministry of Environment predicts an increase in infectious waste by 30 percent compared to pre-pandemic conditions. In the midst of the lack of hazardous waste treatment facilities such as incinerators, the increase in medical waste in Indonesia has the potential to cause serious problems such as the processing of illegal medical waste.

If examined further, the mystery of the cause of the pandemic is very likely related to the current environmental crisis. Covid-19 became a global pandemic because of its rapid transmission from human to human through fluids (droplets). However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) collaborative mission report and the Chinese Government, SARS-CoV-2 as a trigger for Covid-19 is a zoonotic virus. That is, the virus was initially transmitted from animals to humans.

The emergence of zoonotic viruses is closely related to environmental ecosystem conditions where humans and animals share a place of life. Damaged biodiversity and climate change encourage the emergence of pathogens that are increasingly strong due to the process of adaptation to environmental pressures. Meanwhile, wildlife contact with humans increases the potential for human transmission.


New normal for the environment

The experience of fighting new diseases, for a moment feeling changes in pollution levels, and the potential increase in waste that must be managed should raise awareness of the impact of the environmental crisis and what to do in the future. A number of steps need to be considered so that the environment can enjoy a better new normal.

First, changes in production and consumption behavior to achieve continuous improvement in air quality. Efforts to find environmentally friendly energy to replace high energy pollutants need to be prioritized as a long-term investment. Meanwhile, the management of industrial pollutants and the provision of public transportation to reduce the use of private vehicles is quite urgent to do.

Second, the treatment of rubbish and waste, both medical waste and household waste. The movement to reduce plastic waste must continue to be carried out by the whole community while maintaining hygiene. The data collection of people undergoing isolation at home should be followed by a mechanism for collecting household waste that is potentially dangerous if managed under normal conditions. Of course this must also be accompanied by an increase in the capacity of medical waste treatment through incinerators and other alternative processors to be able to meet the needs of waste treatment from health service facilities and household waste at risk.

Third, maintaining the health of ecosystems, among others, by allowing wild animals to remain in their habitats and maintain the biodiversity that supports them. Regulation and law enforcement related to wildlife trade and land use play an important role in minimizing the possibility of contact with humans.


The article was first published in the rubric "INSPIRATION FOR POLICY" SKH Kedaulatan Rakyat, Friday Edition June 26, 2020.