Afforestation, preservation of key habitat for wildlife protection and sustainable development

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Representative image. PA

We need to carefully assess progress in wildlife conservation. After all, we share the planet with a truly staggering variety of wildlife, which is directly responsible for our survival. Human intervention has led to an unprecedented depletion of wildlife. Over the past 40 years, we have witnessed an astonishing 60% decline in the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians.

Afforestation and habitat preservation provide answers. Conserving the environment is essential to our survival, and planting trees is a remarkably effective tool for achieving this, as it has multi-pronged benefits, including soil conservation, climate stabilization, improved air quality and quality of life, among others.

The reverence for nature in all its forms, including trees, is deeply rooted in Indian philosophy. Trees are a vital life force. A tree is a complete ecosystem, meeting the needs of man and animal. This is the importance of reforestation.

Although we still have a long way to go, India has made progress in afforestation. India added 3 million hectares of forest area between 2011 and 2021 to achieve land degradation neutrality. Our target is to rejuvenate 26 million hectares of barren land by 2030. India has also pledged to reduce projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030.

Reforestation and wildlife preservation will go a long way, as trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere, creating carbon sinks. India’s goal is to create carbon sinks of up to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. So we need to do more to preserve animal habitats.

Take the example of tiger conservation efforts in India. Our country’s success here is commendable. 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 the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation timeline.

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. Ongoing efforts to conserve tigers by developing tiger-friendly ecosystems have protected the livelihoods of people from marginalized communities, especially forest dwellers and tribes who depend on forest resources for a living.

Tree planting is a Jan Andolan in the state, as it organizes plantings with increasing regularity. Not only the planting of saplings, but the state also ensures that these saplings are maintained by the people, so that they grow well. Madhya Pradesh has launched the Ankur Abhiyan, under which individuals must register through the Vayudoot app and share photos of raising their saplings for 30 days. The Jan Andolan for tree planting seeks to educate the community and educate them about reforestation. A similar effort for reforestation is being done under the Child for Child program by Smile Foundation, an all-India civil society organization that organizes tree planting campaigns among schoolchildren.

All of these efforts stem from the realization that human health is closely linked to animal health and environmental well-being. The current pandemic is, at least in part, the result of the devastation of animal habitats. The threat of zoonotic diseases – which spread from species to species – increases as animal habitats are destroyed. India is making concerted efforts to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases. One of the most important of these is an initiative by the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying of the Union Government to establish the One Health approach to leveraging human and physical capital for prevent future pandemics.

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

The pandemic has hampered progress for all development indicators. The implementation of the One Health approach must contribute to the early detection, prevention and control of public health emergencies (such as Covid-19) and the mitigation of endemic zoonotic infections.

In sum, protecting and expanding animal habitats is the most effective way to improve wildlife populations and maintain ecological balance. It is a return to our nature worship value system and will help India achieve at least nine of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The author, Dr. Aatish Parashar is Professor, Dean and Principal of Central University of South Bihar. H is an expert in environmental communication. The opinions expressed are personal.

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