Captain Kawsar Mostafa

Master Mariner, AFNI

Founder Director, NSSB

Every pandemic/epidemic has a considerable social or economic impact and alarmingly some environmental impacts. It happened in the case of COVID-19 pandemic thatinitially started in the city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, China. A hospital in Wuhan first notified the local center for disease control and prevention (CDC) and health commissions about it on 27 December 2019.  Later on 31st December, Wuhan CDC disclosed  the potential outbreak of the virus to the media and their National Health commission. Later on 05st Jan WHO published the first Disease outbreak News on the new virus. The first Official confirmed case of COVID-19 recorded outside China was in Thailand. Later it spread throughout the world very first.

The following table shows the history of worldwide pandemic since 1900 and the estimated number of death toll:

1918 influenza pandemic (‘Spanish flu’)1918–1920WorldwideInfluenza A virus subtype H1N1 Spanish flu virus17–100 million
1957–1958 influenza pandemic (‘Asian Flu’)1957–1958WorldwideInfluenza A virus subtype H2N21–4 million
Hong-Kong flu1968–1970WorldwideInfluenza A virus subtype H3N2 H3N2 virus1–4 million
2009 swine flu pandemic2009–2010WorldwideInfluenza A virus subtype H1N1284,000 (possible range 151,700-575,400)
COVID-19 pan2019–presentWorldwideCOVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2 SARS-CoV-2 virus680,894 (as of 04th August 2020)

Though people worldwide have faced many more pandemic/epidemic cases, but most of the time the death toll was not that high and it did not spread as many countries as COVID-19 has done.As of 4thAugust 2020,  216 Countries and Territories around the world have reported a total of 17,660,523 confirmed cases of the coronavirus COVID-19 that originated from Wuhan, China, and the death toll is 680,894 deaths

The economic and social impact is enormous, world economy is almost paralyzed, and according to UN due to COVID-19, more than 130 million people will fall into extreme poverty. In Bangladesh our economyhas already been feeling the heat. Lot of people of the urban/city areas has lost their jobs or their earning has fallen.The worst affected people are the middle,lower middle and low income class. Due to that, social and psychological impact has also been obvious. People are migrating towards the village to shed off their extra burden of economy.

Not only economic and social impactthere is also environmental impact observed due to COVID-19, which has both positive and negative impactson our environment. There have been many speculations about the positive impacts of the pandemic on the environment. It is still uncertain how our environment will look like once the pandemic is over. Let us look into both positive and negative impacts of environment in brief, which we can consider as a preliminary assessment:

After the outbreak of COVID-19 once all the countries started lock-down locally to stop spreading COVID-19. Due to closer of different business, factories, transportation; the amount of pollution started reducing.As a result air pollution reduced a lot. The following table will give a clear idea about the reduction of air pollution only during the lockdown period in the major polluted cities in the world.

In a study about East China attempted to assess comprehensively the environmental impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. This study analyzed satellite observational data of Sulfur dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), Carbon monoxide (CO) and Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) in the period before the outbreak of the pandemic and during the implementation of preventive measures and control of COVID-19, as well as compared it with the data obtained in the same period of 2019. The results of the analysis showed that the COVID-19 lockdown improved air quality. The levels of CO and NO2 showed the most significant decrease (20 and 30%), since they were mainly associated with a decrease in economic growth and transport restrictions that led to a change in energy consumption and a reduction in emissions. But as soon as coal consumption at power plants and refineries returned to normal levels due to the resumption of their work, pollution levels returned to their previous level. The following analysis will give a clear idea about the reduction of pollutant materials.

Fig. Temporal variability of AOD, SO2, NO2 and CO over East China.

Above are the comparisonsof SO2, NO2, CO, and AOD in the first three months of 2020 with the same values in the period of 2019. The results showed that emissions of pollutants in East China were lower than in the same period in 2019. Although, in March 2020, CO concentrations in the southern regions of the country were higher than 2019. This was due to emissions outside the country, namely in Vietnam, where the prevention and control measures for the spread of COVID-19 were not so strict, therefore, the CO cloud stretched in a continuous strip from the northern borders of Vietnam, the Pearl River Delta and further north to the Yangtze River Delta, covering most of the territory.

Air pollution, which is closely associated with the burning of fossil fuels, is another confirmation of the reduction in the use of fossil fuels in satellite NO2 measurements. In the two-week period after Lunar New Year 2020, average levels were reduced by about 30%, compared with the same period in 2019. China’s energy consumption is dominated by energy-intensive industries and freight transportation, with residential electricity consumption and in commercial premises, private cars play a relatively minor role in it. As can be seen from above fig the AOD values in 2020 were relatively high, and this period, when there were restrictions on movement and more cars were off, and most enterprises were closed. This may be due to blast furnaces, which continued to operate for extended periods, while most power plants shut down, at best, only part of their boilers.

The picture below will give a clear idea about the density of NO2  in China.

Not only in china, but also all over the world we have observed the improvement of Air quality during the lock down period. The following pictures of India and USA will give a clear comparison of that.

Fig. Earth Observatory images, NASA

Fig. Tropospheric NO2 Column , Northeast, USA /NASA
In fact,Greenhouse gas emissions reduced 2.5Gt (4.6 % percent)
— larger than any drop in human history

In Dhaka city, we observed the changes of air quality. Due to the shutdown of factories in the city and Brick fields around the city, movement of fewer motor vehicles, reduction of dust particles from construction works etc, reduced the air pollution a lot and quality of air improved.Different parks, Nature reserve observed improved conditions, free movement of animals, birds, growth of different plants etc have been observed due to the improved atmospheric condition, a result of less anthropoid movement and pollution. Even in our national Zoo, health and birth rate of different animals have increased considerably as there is no disturbance from the public. This shows that if we became more responsible in our behaviors and learned to manage our natural resources in proper manner, the damage to nature and environment would be less and nature itselfwould be able to recover itself. So, during the lock down period, not only air pollution reduced but the water, noise, light pollutions also reduced to a noted extent and condition of the atmosphere improved.

But, on the other hand, COVID-19 not only reduced pollution but it has also increased pollution in some extent,which could be a long term threat to our environment. The following are a few among many others:

Medical waste and waste management

A big concern is over the medical wastes resulting from the COVID-19 concerns, including wastes generated from the hospitals where COVID-19 patients are being treated.Medical Waste represents a potential danger as many disposable materials, such as gloves, facial masks and shoes, are made of materials hardly decomposable in nature. If not disposed of properly, we can face to its accumulation in our environment which can be further harmful to all environmental elements. In normal time in Dhaka City about 6000 MT/day waste generated in Dhaka city from different hospitals. Due to COVID-19 amount increased a lot. Once WHO declared COVID-19 as pandemic, people around the globe are hastening to take every possible measure to safeguard them against Virus. The most widespread of these precautions is use of surgical and other Mask. Not only Musk but also Use of Plastic Hand gloves, Face shield and PPE suits increased many folds.

It is very natural not to consider the environmental impacts of these masks in the midst of the pandemic, but attention must be paid to an environmental problem that will far exceed than that of the virus itself.Surgical musk supposed to be worn for no longer than a single day. Moreover, masks should be disposable (should not be made of Cloths or other woven materials) and those should not be reusable. The disposable masks made of non-woven fabric such as polypropylene, which is between 20 and 25 grams per square metre in density. Also Polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene or polyester are some of the other commonly used materials for mask preparation. While these masks keep out bacteria effectively (although not necessarily that of the virus), the masks are plastic-based, liquid-resistant products that have a long afterlife as they are discarded, ending up in landfill or oceans.

A recent survey conducted by a Hong Kong-based environmental NGO Ocean-Asia, at Soko Islands, a small cluster of islands lying south-west of Lantau Island, found heaps of discarded single-use masks washed up on a 100-metre stretch of beach.Earlier there were one or two odd masks, they used to spot for so many years. But after theoutbreak of COVID-19, when 7 million people of Hong Kong started using disposable masks for their security. As per the founder and director of the Ocean-Asia NGO,  Mr.Gray Stokes says, “Due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, the general population have all taken the precaution of wearing surgical masks. When you suddenly have a population of 7 million people wearing one to two masks per day, the amount of trash generated is going to be substantial.”

The condition all over the world is almost similar. Not only the disposable masks but also other items like Plastic Hand gloves, Face shields and other PPE items posing severe threat to the environment and animals. As a major portion of these debris left discarded in an animal’s natural habitat- be it land or water- this may cause animals to mistake this trash for food, which could lead to entanglement, choking, ingestion and death. This is ahazardfor not only environment and animals, but also Humans in the long run. Disposal of Clinical debris also pose serious threat to garbage collectors.A great Risk of spreading other contagious disease could be due to improper disposal of these wastes or disposables.

According to the WHO guidelines, soiled tissues and used face masks must be thrown only into lidded litter bins, all medical gear used by affected patients and hospital staff must be sterilized and burnt at high temperatures in dedicated incinerators operating at temperatures between 850-1100oC. Unfortunately, not all regions have the capacity to properly deal with the sudden spike in clinical waste generated as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

About 2.0kg/day/person Medical waste generated in different Hospitals/Clinics in Dhaka. Apart from that there are plenty of diagnostic clinics at many places, which cannot be easily monitored.In 2013 about 50mt of Medical waste was generated in Dhaka city itself.This quantity increased a lot by year 2020 and again due to COVID-19, the amount of these waste increased 3/4 folds. WUHAN China has reported to have generated 200 tons of clinical trash on a single day (24 February 2020), four times the amount the city’s only dedicated facility could incinerate per day. In comparison to that, Bangladesh and many other countriesdoes not have the capacity to incinerate all medical wastes even during the normal times and now during COVID-19 the amount of waste increased to a considerable higher amount (not yet detected in percentage like Wuhan). As most of the medical waste is dumped along with other wastesat different dumping groundsor open locations, the chances of spreading of different infectious diseases has a chance to increase.It could contaminate not only land and water but also the air. Which is extremely harmful for the terrestrial and aquatic animals, including human beings as well as our different agricultural products.

Increase of Solid Waste and Air pollution:

There is still something magical about the idea of browsing a world of goods online, choosing what you want and having it delivered to your door, sometimes within hours. We may give thought to the environmental impact when we are drowning in excess packaging (nearly a third of solid waste in the US comes from e-commerce packaging) but it’s easy to ignore the rest of it. Such as the fact that Amazon, in figures released last year, emits nearly as much carbon dioxide as a small country. We are buying more online than ever. On line shopping increasing very fast. Julian Allen, researcher at the transport studies department at the University of Westminster.

As most of the time we want same-day delivery do not want to wait. That, says Allen, “Tends to mean stuff gets moved in smaller and smaller quantities. We have vehicles shooting all over the place making single deliveries. We have the concept of ‘free’ delivery, which is a selling point for retailers, but it’s not really free in the sense of what it costs them and what it costs in environmental terms.”The growth in hot-food delivery services has been enormous. “It’s sheer inefficiency to move a single meal in a car or motorbike.Many retailers started using single use plastic citing health concerns over consumers”.

Due to stay at home policies many consumers have increased their consumption of single use of packaging and all these development created acute challenges for the waste management industry

Increase of Chemicals in our environment:

Another potential negative impact stems from the extensive use of sanitization chemicals and disinfectants containing toxic material to the environment especially in water bodies.Their extended production and consumption led to an increasing amount of sanitization/hygiene bottles and packaging that are mostly made of hard-to-decompose plastics. Not only above but to assess negative consequences, we need consider the behavior of consumers. Analysis of such behavior can be done within the “quality of life” approach, which includes- financial well-being (income, wages, etc.); social characteristics (education, health, etc.); ecological component (clean environment, ecologically clean products, clean water, recreation, enjoying beautiful nature, etc.). When a certain level of income is achieved requirements for balancing all three components increase, so do requirements for the ecological factor of life (Kuznets curve) (Bobylev, 2017).

 It is obvious that the economic crisis associated with COVID will strike a big blow to financial welfare: the decline in production or the closure of enterprises and organizations in the public and private sectors will result in a fall in income, an increase in debt, problems with mortgages, an increase in unemployment, etc. All this will have a negative impact on consumer behavior towards environmental quality of life.COVID-19 gave us chance to think the long-term consequences include a new mental awareness of the place of man on Earth. The feeling of power of our civilization, power over nature has been broken by COVID. And COVID is just an “immune response” to the environmental horrors that humans created.

It has become clear that tens of thousands of complex chemical and biotechnological compounds produced annually by the economy, their often unpredictable synergistic effect, a full range of harmful environmental pollution and destruction of nature – their consequences cannot be adequately predicted by man, and accordingly, man has not learned and will not be able to learn to combat this.COVID has demonstrated our weakness in this. We should damage/break theecological capacity of the biosphere which we are doing for so long. Consequence of damaging the ecological balance can be beyond our control of recovery.

COVID and the associated economic crisishave showed us there is an obvious need for an urgent change of the economic model. “We can’t live like that anymore.” The decision makers need to re-think and plan for the sustainable and environment friendly modelfor our own existence.Attention must be given to threats on the environment and natural resource bases because of the coronavirus pandemic and consequential social and economic impacts. Actions taken by producers pursuant to such strategies can help maintain subsistence income levels, while ensuring the sustainable management of agricultural, forestry, marine and biodiversity-rich ecosystems like that of Bangladesh and other such countries.

References :

  2. A preliminary assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on environment – Acase study of China – QiangWang⁎, Min SuSchool of Economics and Management, China University of Petroleum (East China), Qingdao, Shandong 266580, People’s Republic of China; Institute for Energy Economics and Policy, China University of Petroleum (East China), Qingdao, Shandong 266580, People’s Republic of China
  3. The impact of COVID-19 partial lockdown on the air quality of the city ofRio de Janeiro, BrazilGuilherme Dantas a, Bruno Siciliano a, Bruno BoscaroFrança b, Cleyton M. da Silva a,c,⁎, Graciela Arbillaa
    a Institute of Chemistry, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    b Municipal Department of the Environment (SMAC), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    c Veiga de Almeida University, Maracanã Campus, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  8. Environmental impacts of coronavirus crisis, challenges ahead – Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer, UNCTAD
  10. Impact Assessment of COVID-19 on Variations of SO2, NO2, CO and AOD over East China. – Filonchyk, M., Hurynovich, V., Yan, H., Gusev, A. and Shpilevskaya, N. (2020) Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 20: 1530–1540.
  12. Environmental consequences of COVID-19 on the global and Russian economicsBobylev Sergey Nikolaevich, Doctor in Economics, Professor, Head of the Department of Environmental Economics at the Faculty of Economics of the Lomonosov Moscow State University,
  13. NASA Earth Observatory images
  14. Global socio-economic losses and environmental gains from the Coronavirus pandemic – Manfred Lenzen, Mengyu Li, Arunima Malik, Francesco Pomponi, Ya-Yen Sun, Thomas Wiedmann, FutuFaturay, Jacob Fry, Blanca Gallego, Arne Geschke, Jorge Gómez-Paredes, Keiichiro Kanemoto, Steven Kenway, Keisuke Nansai, Mikhail Prokopenko, Takako Wakiyama, Yafei Wang, Moslem Yousefzadeh
  15. 13.Pattern of medical waste management: existing scenario in DhakaCity, Bangladesh  – M Manzurul Hassan*1, Shafiul Azam Ahmed2, K Anisur Rahman3 and TaritKanti Biswas314.