INTEGRAL ECOLOGY | Pandemic aggravated by air pollution
By Fr. Reynaldo D. Raluto
LIBONA, Bukidnon (MindaNews) – Since 2016 I have been coming to Libona, Bukidnon every weekend to serve as a guest priest of the Jesus Nazareno parish. The parish church has currently been under full lockdown since July 3, 2021 due to the alarming increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the region. Libona has several ecological concerns. Besides its vast monoculture of pineapple plantation, Libona is also home to several pigsties and poultry. When not carried out in a sustainable manner, both forms of agribusiness can be dangerous to our health and harmful to our ecology, especially in this time of pandemic.
In this sense, many people responded positively when the municipal mayor of Libona, Aurelio Lopez, ordered the temporary closure of certain poultry and pigsties in two barangays on June 23, 2021. A week later, he again ordered the temporary suspension poultry and pigsty operations. of anther two barangays. The two laudable decrees are based on the findings and recommendations of its Municipal Poultry and Pig House Oversight Working Group.
Said municipal by-laws indicate that the following irregularities were committed: inadequate drainage system, poor waste management, no mortality pit, no lagoon, poor hygiene, no building of chicken manure, presence of larvae and foul odor emitted by their exhaust fan system. . These irregularities not only produce air pollution but also infest the area with flies which threaten the health of local citizens.
The link between COVID-19 and air pollution
Libona’s experience can be seen as a common dilemma among leaders today. There is a strong temptation among authorities to relax air pollution standards during the pandemic, presumably for fear of a deep economic recession. Many who view air pollution as a less pressing concern may have a tendency to postpone the implementation of environmental rules and regulations. Indeed, they ended up going back on their ecological commitments.
There is a clear link between COVID-19 and air pollution. For this reason, many environmentalists argue that regulating air pollution threats during this pandemic time is not only appropriate but also urgent action. Researchers say this infectious disease spreads quickly in a dirty environment because “pollution particles could even serve as a vehicle to transport the virus further.”
As a type of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), COVID-19 or SARS CoV-2 primarily attacks the lungs and causes other upper respiratory illnesses, including the common cold. As a result, lungs inflamed by pollutants are very likely to catch the virus. Thus, this pandemic is exacerbated by air pollution which negatively affects especially people with respiratory problems.
Poor people most vulnerable to pandemic and air pollution
Whether there is a pandemic or not, the poor are always exposed to unhealthy situations that make them vulnerable to disease and premature death. Many barn and poultry workers do not receive personal protective equipment.
At this time of pandemic, the poor are doubly vulnerable as they are under attack from this deadly virus which would easily infect them due to their lack of access to clean water, soap and masks and the difficulty in maintaining a physical distance.
In addition, the threats of poor Filipinos are tripled as they unfairly suffer the worst effects of ecological disasters brought on by the climate emergency during a pandemic. These layers of vulnerability from which the poor suffer should force us to prioritize their concerns. Having a preferential option for the poor is imperative in this time of pandemic and climate emergency.
The need for a comprehensive solution to the pandemic
The dominant approach to solving the pandemic revolves around curative measures: observing physical distancing in the social context, avoiding mass gatherings, wearing face masks and face shields, washing hands thoroughly, tracing contacts, diagnostic tests, isolate infected people, enforce quarantine, limit travel, implement targeted locks on social activities and interactions, and inject vaccines. While these health protocols have proven to be effective in containing and mitigating infectious disease, many critics rightly insist that this pandemic could have been avoided had “more attention been paid to measures to [their] prevention and anticipation.
The Church promotes the integral solution to the pandemic, which is based on the ecological principle that “Everything is interconnected”. This could mean that our proposed solution for one part should not create a problem with other parts. In the words of Rev. Augusto Zampini-Davies, to meet food needs in the face of the pandemic, we must “accelerate improvements in agricultural productivity but link them to the protection of natural ecosystems and sustainable practices”. Pigsties, for example, can help solve the food crisis, but are also known to emit methane which is considered the second most destructive greenhouse gas. They also produce nitrogen from their manure which causes acid rain.
A comprehensive solution to the pandemic could also mean preventing the emergence of future zoonotic diseases by addressing declining forest cover and maintaining healthy forest ecosystems. Thus, to increase the limits of curative measures, the rehabilitation of our forest ecosystem must be included in our long-term and integral response to the pandemic. Planting native trees is like killing two birds with one stone: it not only rehabilitates the forest ecosystem that would absorb air pollution; it also prevents the emergence of a future pandemic.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Reynaldo D. Raluto is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Malaybalay. He is the Academic Dean of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro where he also teaches fundamental/systematic theology and Catholic social teaching. He is the author of Poverty and Ecology at the Crossroads: An Ecological Theology of Liberation in the Philippine Context (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2015). His ecological advocacy includes planting/growing Philippine native trees, mountain climbing, and defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples.]