India was among the 22 countries which has enacted or proposed changes to its environmental regulations during the covid-19 pandemic. And the changes have potentially endangered protected, stated a recently published research paper.
The country along with Brazil, and the United States, which have seen heavy load of coronovirus cases, have seen the most instances of rollbacks of these regulations, stated paper, part of a wider report published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on how protected areas were affected by the pandemic.
"During a time when all eyes were obviously on covid ... you had governments reducing budgets or weakening environmental protection," said Mariana Napolitano Ferreira, head of science at WWF Brazil, and one of 150 researchers who wrote the report.
The report highlighted that the pandemic significantly impacted protected areas around the globe beyond just rollbacks. With the crisis leading to job losses among protected area rangers, reduced anti-poaching patrols, and deaths among indigenous communities living in those lands, these protected areas have become even more vulnerable.
In India, at least 31 proposals to open up national parks and sanctuaries for infrastructure, extraction and development projects, including coal mining, the paper cited.
It was expected that President Joe Biden's administration in the US would stop rollbacks enacted by the previous administration during the pandemic, but in Brazil and India the situation was not as clear, Ferreira said.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has tabled a proposal to the country's congress that would allow mining and oil and gas extraction within indigenous reserves, the report said. In fact, last May, Brazilian environment minister Ricardo Salles argued for deregulation of environmental protection, while Brazilians were distracted by the pandemic.
Rangers in Central America and the Caribbean, South America, Africa and Asia were the most badly affected, said the report. A survey of more than 60 countries found that more than one in four rangers saw their salary reduced or delayed, while 20% reported losing jobs due to budget cuts related to the pandemic.
While 17 countries have maintained or increased their support to protected areas despite the crisis, eight countries in the European Union have earmarked funding to expand or strengthen protected areas in the past year, the report said. In fact, Pakistan and New Zealand have also included nature protection in stimulus packages.
The researcher in the paper argued that to diminish the risk of a new pandemic, countries should create new protected areas and make existing ones economically sustainable as new diseases can arise when forests and other wild areas are converted for human use.
"In this moment of economic and humanitarian crisis, we have an unique opportunity to stop and think on how to rebuild," said Ferreira, adding, "We have to look at (protected areas) differently."