The trillions of dollars being spent worldwide on health care and pandemic recovery will ultimately be for naught if governments fail to tackle the destruction of nature as the root cause of emerging zoonotic pathogens like COVID-19, says a new international coalition of health and environmental groups.
Humanity’s ongoing failure to safeguard the world’s wild places has left humanity playing an “ill-fated game of Russian roulette with pathogens,” writes The Guardian, quoting the warning recently issued by Preventing Pandemics at the Source.
While vast sums of money have been injected into stemming the spread of the virus and propping up the global economy, humanity is setting itself up for “worse and more frequent pandemics,” says the coalition, without measures to end deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade.
Citing a 2020 analysis by Princeton University, The Guardian says that “spending just US$27 billion a year would substantially reduce the risks of another pandemic on the scale of the coronavirus outbreak.” To date, the UK media outlet notes, total global spending on COVID-19 response is estimated at over $20 trillion.
The connection between a devastated natural world and waves of infectious disease is not in doubt, The Guardian adds. COVID-19, which is understood to have “jumped from wild bats to humans,” belongs to the some 66% of human pathogens that are zoonotic. Other nasties in the group include Zika, West Nile, and Ebola.
And the number of zoonotic viruses that make the jump to humans is increasing as the barriers between the natural and human worlds grow ever thinner thanks to deforestation and a thriving illegal trade in wildlife.
“Forests—and tropical forests in particular—harbour complex networks of microbes and their wildlife hosts,” said Amy Vittor of the University of Florida’s division of infectious diseases and global medicine. These networks can break dangerously open when the ecosystems within which they exist are degraded.
Preventing Pandemics at the Source said tropical rainforest protection will depend on ending the deforestation driven by beef, palm oil, soy, and timber interests. It also urged the world to recognize the rights of Indigenous peoples and to learn from ancestral understandings of land management.
The Guardian says the coalition’s plea to address the root cause of zoonotic pandemics comes in the wake of similar and intensifying calls to action from the United Nations and the World Health Organization.