Only two months in and it seems the world in 2020 is nearer to doomsday than ever before.
The novel coronavirus still continues to wreak havoc in China, where not even the Great Wall is strong enough to contain the contagion. Beyond its borders, more and more cases are being reported in what has now become a public health crisis of international proportions. And it all came from the most mundane of origins -- a street market.
Outside of China, Thailand is among the worst countries affected by the coronavirus. Although many of the kingdom's confirmed cases have been dealt with and the infected sent back home, public paranoia has reached fever pitch. Understandable, given that Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists, with over 10 million visiting the country on a yearly basis.
All this while Thailand continues to struggle with the PM2.5 dust particles blanketing the sky in many parts of the country. Just last week in Phrae, the Air Quality Index reportedly hit over 500 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m³) -- more than 10 times the country's safe level of 50µg/m³ (which itself is already twice the level recommended by the UN). In the capital, where the air has been murky for weeks, people have been complaining of skin allergies, respiratory problems, eye irritation and fatigue as a consequence of the tiny airborne particulates filling their lungs.
Further afield, the devastating bushfires continue to rip through Australia. The wildfires have been raging since September, destroying around 2,500 homes and killing 33 people and as many as a staggering one billion animals. So far, an area the size of Greece has been ravaged. Is there an end in sight? Unfortunately, no. Last week, Australian officials warned communities in hard-hit eastern areas to strengthen bushfire defences as soaring temperatures and strong winds were set to return, threatening to reignite existing blazes and start fresh ones.
Staying in Australia, late last month a huge dust storm -- covering an area bigger than the UK -- swept across the country's south. According to data from South Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, the dust covered an estimated area of 275,000km², like something out of a scene from The Mummy.
Meanwhile in Madagascar, at least 21 people died following almost a week of torrential rain in the island's northwest, resulting in severe deluge and people missing and displaced. Similarly, in Brazil, storms have led to severe flooding, submerging entire neighbourhoods in the country's southeast, killing 54 people and leaving 18 missing. More than 30,000 people have been displaced. Oh yeah, and the Amazon is still on fire as well.
Back in Thailand, the hottest months are still ahead of us, and parts of the country are already facing the worst drought in years. In Nakhon Ratchasima, authorities have admitted the drought they are facing is the worst in four decades. Local reservoirs that are supposed to provide running water for communities have reportedly dried up. Locals are having to live off water distributed by the Provincial Waterworks Authority on a daily basis. Earlier this year, the Royal Irrigation Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives reported that the current drought has hit agricultural areas in 15 provinces. Over 160,000 farmers are expected to be affected, with total losses of over 822 million baht predicted.
These disasters affecting so many lives and ecosystems all over the world have at least one thing in common -- they are the unwanted consequences of human carelessness and greed, of our insatiable exploitation of resources and our reluctance to change our ways even as the world burns around us.
The coronavirus epidemic is a prime example of how our senseless interference with nature threatens to blow up in our faces. Despite all the food we farm, we continue to prey on wild animals, many of whom are rare and endangered. We intrude their dens, slaughter them and eat them, often out of a misguided belief those wild animal parts are an elixir of life.
The reality is quite the contrary. According to reports, Chinese researchers believe the new strain of coronavirus may have been transmitted to humans from snakes, which in turn may have got it from bats. Both snakes and bats are known to have been sold at that market in Wuhan.
Late last month, following the scale of the outbreak, China's Ministry of Agriculture, the State Administration for Market Regulation, and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration ordered a temporary ban on the trade in wild animals. With the virus already spreading rapidly around the world, it feels like a case of too little too late.
Is this a sign of the end times? Are we running out of time to stop the apocalypse? Or can we do something to reverse the damage? The planet has been wrecked by human hands. But those hands can yet save it.
Arusa Pisuthipan is the editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Deputy editor of the Life section
Arusa Pisuthipan is the deputy editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.