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In its official report on SARS-CoV-2’s origins the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed to the potential disease risks of contact between wildlife and people, showing the life-threatening risk of natural ecosystem destruction, which is breaking down the buffer zone scientists say protects us from wildlife-borne viruses. 

WHO’s report can be read here.

Greenpeace East Asia Forests and Oceans Project Manager Pan Wenjing said:
“Researchers have increasingly raised alarms about the infectious disease risks of biodiversity loss. These viruses are naturally isolated away from us by ecosystems that provide a buffer zone. We’re steamrolling right through that ecological buffer. The Chinese government last year took a few decisive steps forward with bans on wildlife breeding and consumption for food. But more needs to be done, in China and elsewhere. Global health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic will happen more often if we fail to protect natural ecosystems globally.”

Along with direct contact with wild animals, the destruction of natural ecosystems facilitates the infectious disease spread through a host of factors. For example, rich biodiversity protects humans from disease transmission from mosquitos because it dilutes large single-species populations. And areas with higher bird diversity showed lower rates of West Nile virus infections because mosquitos, as a vector of infection, were less likely to find suitable hosts.¹ Other examples of infectious diseases increasing because of ecosystem encroachment, include yellow fever, Mayaro, and Chagas disease in the Americas.²

The global scale and rapid rate of natural ecosystem destruction brings increased disease risks.³ The main causes are direct human encroachment, resource exploitation, and high-intensity agribusiness and industrial agriculture. 

The COP 15 to the Convention on Biological Diversity is planned to be hosted in Yunnan, China, currently scheduled for October this year. 

Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said: 
“Since viruses don’t care about borders, multilateral cooperation is the most effective strategy for overcoming global crises. The science is clear: the destruction of natural ecosystems is the path to further disease outbreaks. Now is the time to scale up and turn global ambitions for ecosystem protection into real action. Governments and multinational corporations have to own that responsibility, and also ensure supply chains aren’t putting us at risk.”

NOTES

  1. Ostfeld R (2009) Biodiversity loss and the rise of zoonotic pathogens, Clinical Microbiology and Infection, Volume 15, 40 – 43 accessed on 19/3/2020 from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-0691.2008.02691.x
  2. Saker L, Lee K, Cannito B, Gilmore A, Campbell-Lendrum D (2004) Globalization and infectious diseases; a review of the linkages. World Health Organization, Geneva https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/68726/TDR_STR_SEB_ST_04.2.pdf  
  3. Mark Everard, Paul Johnston, David Santillo, Chad Staddon (2020) The role of ecosystems in mitigation and management of Covid-19 and other zoonoses. Environmental Science & Policy,Volume 111,7-17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2020.05.017.