India Must Continue Its Holistic Approach To Achieve Sustainable Development Goals

 - Sakshi Post

India has committed to reducing projected carbon emissions by one billion tons by 2030

We aim to rejuvenate 26 million hectares of barren land by 2030

India’s holistic approach will help achieve at least 9 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals  

We must keenly evaluate progress made towards wildlife conservation. After all, we share the planet with a truly staggering variety of fauna, which is directly responsible for our survival. Human intervention has led to unprecedented wildlife depletion. Just over the past 40 years, we have seen an astonishing 60% decline in the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.

Afforestation and habitat preservation provide answers. Environmental conservation is critical to our survival, and tree plantation is a remarkably effective tool to achieve this, as it has multi-pronged benefits including soil preservation, climate stabilization, improved air quality, and quality of life, among others.

The veneration of nature in all its forms, including trees, is deeply rooted in Indian ethos. Trees are a vital life-giving force. A tree is a complete ecosystem, fulfilling the needs of man and animal alike. This is the significance of afforestation.

While we have some way to go, India has progressed in afforestation. India added 3 million hectares of forest area between 2011 and 2021 to achieve land degradation neutrality. We aim to rejuvenate 26 million hectares of barren land by 2030. India has also committed to reducing projected carbon emissions by one billion tons by 2030.

Afforestation and wildlife preservation will help a great deal in this as trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere creating carbon sinks. India's target is to create carbon sinks that can hold up to 3 billion tons of Carbon Dioxide-equivalent by 2030. We must therefore strive harder to preserve animal habitats.

Take the example of tiger conservation efforts in India. Our country's success story here is praiseworthy. Today, 70% of the world's tigers are found in India, which has nearly 3,000 tigers. We have as many as 51 tiger reserves in 18 states and our country and have doubled the tiger population four years ahead of schedule of the St Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation.

Madhya Pradesh has the largest tiger population in the country. It is also the state with the largest forest area. The state has been remarkably successful in preserving tiger-friendly ecosystems, which has helped it develop sustainably. Consistent efforts to conserve tigers by expanding tiger-friendly ecosystems have protected the livelihoods of people from marginalized communities, particularly forest dwellers and tribals who depend on forest resources for a living.

Tree plantation is a Jan Andolan in the state, as it holds plantation drives with increasing regularity. Not only planting of saplings, but the state is also ensuring these saplings are nurtured by the people, so they grow well. Madhya Pradesh has launched the Ankur Abhiyan, under which individuals must register through the Vayudoot app and share photos of nurturing their saplings for 30 days. The Jan Andolan for tree plantation seeks to build community awareness and sensitization for afforestation. A similar effort for afforestation is made under the Child for Child program by Smile Foundation, a pan-India civil society organization that conducts tree plantation drives among school children.

All these efforts stem from the realization that human health is closely linked to animal health and environmental wellbeing. The current pandemic is, at least in part, the result of the devastation of animal habitats. The threat of Zoonotic diseases – that travel from one species to another – increases multifold as animal habitats are destroyed. India is making concerted efforts to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases. Prominent among these is an initiative of the union government's Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying to establish the One Health approach to leverage human capital and physical capital to prevent future pandemics.

The One Health concept recognizes that animal health, human health and the environment are interconnected and interdependent. While numerous steps have been taken to promote the concept of One Health across other nations, in India we must recognize the urgency to implement this concept now, more than ever, as we fight the pandemic.

The pandemic has hindered progress across all development indicators. Implementing the One Health approach shall help in the early detection, prevention, and control of public health emergencies (like Covid-19) and in the mitigation of endemic zoonotic infections.

In sum, protecting and expanding animal habitats is the most effective way to improve the wildlife population and maintain ecological balance. It is a return to our value system of worshipping nature and will help India achieve at least nine of the 17 sustainable development goals. 

-- Writes Dr. Aatish Parashar, Professor, Dean & Head, Central University of South Bihar, Expert - Environment Communication

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