There have been many speculations about the positive impacts of the pandemic on the environment. Mostly connected to the restricted movement of people due to the curfews. However, scientists cool down the enthusiasm – it is uncertainty how our environment will look like once the pandemic ends. The following is a brief assessment of COVID-19 on the environment which can be considered only as preliminary as the scientific data is awaiting further publications.
Medical waste and waste management
A big concern is over the medical waste resulting from the COVID-19 crises, including wastes generated at hospitals where COVID-19 patients are being treated; wastes from quarantine areas; in addition to the disposable personal protective equipment widely used by the majority of the Jordanians.
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
Chemicals in our environment
Another potential negative impact stems from the extensive use of sanitization chemicals and disinfectants containing toxic material to the environment. 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.
Additionally, importing of agricultural products seemed to be halted due to this curfew which resulted in increasing application of pesticides and chemicals by local farmers who are under pressure to produce more than planned.
While curfews are still in place in Jordan, we are seeing wild animals in areas and streets that once used to be densely populated. This, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that our biodiversity has been improving. Positive changes in biodiversity require a much longer time than a few months. Moreover, COVID-19 has suddenly become an urgent threat, the danger of the biodiversity loss might be side-tracked.
There is a clear link between inequality and vulnerability. those who are the most affected by pollution are at the same time at the greatest risk of having severe symptoms of COVID-19. Therefore, their pre-pandemic environmental vulnerability caused by existing inequality continues to undermine their health and resilience even in times of the COVID-19 spread. This is also closely related to gender inequality which, in many cases, leads to greater exposure of women to negative impacts of the degrading environment. Moreover, as the proportion of women in care occupations in Jordan is traditionally remarkably high, their exposure to the virus is considered to be very high.
It is predicted that after strict restrictions, countries will focus on restarting their economies by funding industrial activities that might compensate for their economic loss. To prevent such a scenario, we should commit to green COVID-19 economic rescue plans. In Jordan, we might re-consider the Environmental Impact Assessment framework and use it to navigate our rescue plans into a more environmentally friendly form.
Energy efficiency sector
There is a significant drop in oil prices and demand which has had a positive impact on the Jordanian economy in the short run, reducing fiscal pressures from import negating the need for past oil subsidy payment.
In the medium term, however, and depending on the length of the oil price slump, the net effect could turn negative, primarily from lower grants from the GCC and IFI. Such a situation can negatively impact the implementation of energy-efficiency measure. On the contrary, it may open the door for an opportunity in the renewable energy sector.
In summary, the impacts of COVID-19 outbreaks seem to be potentially both positive and negative. It is clear that our response after the crises will decide which side of the same coin will prevail. We have been already witnessing a shift of many environmental programs towards COVID-19 responses which have raised the questions whether key donors will truly reconsider environmental sustainability as their priority and rather invest into the mitigation of the COVID-19 outbreak impacts.
UNDP Jordan response into UN Jordan response
The United Nations supports the Government of Jordan’s efforts in preventing, responding, and mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus through a multi-pronged and mutually supporting approach:
1) Support for the health emergency response;
2) Critical humanitarian support for refugee populations and host communities throughout Jordan;
3) Mitigate the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. These three tiers constitute the framework of the UN’s coordination and operations in Jordan.
Collectively, these three tiers will strengthen the Government of Jordan’s response and give citizens what they urgently need in this crisis.