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On Earth Day, Green activists cite need for clean environment to combat pandemic

Environmental experts in Manila warned that “serious unresolved environmental issues” will contribute to the re-emergence of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Ahead of Earth Day celebrations on April 22, activists drummed up the urgency of “greening” watershed areas and cityscapes to build “collective resilience” against the spread of the new coronavirus.

“Restoring watershed forests and rewilding urbanscapes are both immediate and long-term solutions,” said Leon Dulce of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

“We will win half the battle against emerging infectious diseases if we live in sustainable environments and address the ecological imbalances,” he added.

In a webinar ahead of the 50th year observance of Earth Day, Marilen Parungao-Balolong, a doctor of public health, warned that “environmental changes have a huge impact on the emergence and re-emergence of certain infectious diseases.”

“Ecosystem integrity is very important,” she said, adding that it can regulate diseases by supporting a diversity of species “so that it is more difficult for one pathogen to spill over, amplify and dominate.”

She warned that the Philippines has a high risk of emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases, noting that this “happens mostly in countries with high biodiversity and serious unresolved environmental, social, and economic issues.”

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The social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines also called for “a very intimate ecological conversion” to fight the spread of infectious diseases on Earth Day.

Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said the coronavirus pandemic calls for a “deep social and structural conversion” and a “very intimate ecological conversion.”

The priest said the fight against pandemics and health crises in the future will depend on “how we take care of Our Common Home.”

“Human life depends on the well-being of the planet and all of its inhabitants. The more we disturb biodiversity, the more we put our lives and health in danger,” he said.

Father Gariguez called on the faithful “to expand” the coronavirus pandemic narrative beyond health and economic issues and look at environmental destruction as the “root cause.”

“Humans take wildlife out of their natural habitats and exploit finite resources,” said the priest, adding that human activities destroy biodiversity “as if we are not part of it.”

The priest said that all human beings are part of nature and “we need to respect and protect our home — the entire ecosystems, the habitat and biodiversity of the planet.”

Church groups and pro-environment advocates call for the protection of the environment during a “Rights of Nature” caravan in 2018. (Photo by Maria Tan)

Online observance

A Catholic diocese in the central Philippines, meanwhile, called on the faithful to join online activities to mark the 50th year celebration of Earth Day.

Earth Day is an annual global event, observed on April 22, that celebrates the environmental movement and raises awareness about pollution and ways to maintain a clean habitat.

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos urged the faithful to show their solidarity and care for Mother Earth while at home through digital activities.

“With social distancing restrictions in places around the world to fight the spread of coronavirus, Earth Day will be celebrated online,” said the prelate.

He encouraged people in his diocese to participate in online activities to stand up for Mother Earth “as a form a human chain but through a different platform.”

One of the activities suggested by Bishop Alminaza is a “dance challenge” using a mobile application that “we will later form into a virtual human chain.”

The diocese’s youth group also created a picture frame, which online users can use for their “Earth Day profile picture.”

The prelate also encouraged netizens to post their own “song interpretation” of the “Together We Can Change the World” song.

“We encourage our parishes to create initiatives to share, like starting a vlog on how to care for our common home,” he said.

Bishop Alminaza said the Earth Day celebration should bring attention to a large number of issues requiring “our urgent and active involvement and participation.”

He said people can make “a big difference” through small contributions by standing together as one to protect “Our Common Home and all creations.”

Blogging platform WordPress has announced a three-day livestream and an epic community mobilization from April 22 to 24 “to show support for our planet.

The event dubbed “Earth Day Live” will allow millions of people around the world to tune in online alongside activists, celebrities, musicians, and more.

The massive live event is organized by climate, environmental, and indigenous groups in the United States Climate Strike Coalition and Stop The Money Pipeline Coalition.

Mark Saludes contributed to this report.

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