NAIROBI, Kenya — The head of an African network for young Catholics warned against prioritizing economic interests over social and environmental concerns as nations work to recover from the COVD-19 pandemic.

Allen Ottaro, executive director Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, spoke to Catholic News Service during Laudato Si’ Week, May 16-24 celebrations to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical on “our common home.”

“As countries look to the post (COVID-19) recovery phase and restarting economies, there is a huge risk that economic considerations will be placed ahead … ultimately, this could lead to much higher level of pollution and carbon emissions (than) before the pandemic,” Ottaro told CNS. “However, there is also an opportunity to take a different trajectory and ensure our economies in a green way, an eco-friendly way.”

Ottaro said the pandemic has not stopped the global climate crisis, and its effects were making it difficult to respond to the disease.

“Hundreds of people have been killed by floods and landslides in parts of East and Central Africa. In Kenya, 200 people have died as a result of floods and landslides in the last month alone, six times more than the number of people who have died of the pandemic,” he said, adding that the risk of contracting malaria and other water-borne diseases in the area is quite high.

He said the current pandemic had underlined how the health of the people and that of the planet are interconnected.

“It is a grim reminder of the ever-increasing risks that arise from the destruction of biodiversity, making contact between humans and wildlife more possible and therefore increasing the chances of diseases moving from wildlife to humans,” he said.

He suggested implementing regular car-free days in major cities and creating better infrastructure for nonmotorized transport like cycling and walking to further help reduce carbon emissions.

He also highlighted strengthening local production and manufacturing as key to reducing emissions related to large-scale industrial complexes and transportation. He said people growing their own food would help build resilience against supply shocks resulting from restricted movement.

“The world has an opportunity to shape the future as we emerge from this crisis, and everyone can contribute to shaping it,” said Ottaro.

The Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa is platform for young Catholics in Africa who are promoting responsible stewardship of the environment, according to its website. Members are located in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa. Young people carry out projects such tree-planting, cleanups and environmental advocacy.