Are new pandemics ravaging populations caused by human expansion? Is the environment pushing back?
The continued expansion into and destruction of new lands and environments and interactions with animals by humans is the source of Covid-19 and other recent viral outbreaks.
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“We must recognise that the way we currently produce and consume food, and our blatant disregard for the environment more broadly, has pushed the natural world to its limits. Nature is currently declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history.”
These are the words of Marco Lambertini, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema and Maria Neira, leaders at WWF International, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization, respectively. They were written in an op-ed in The Guardian, speaking about the potential threat of environmental threats as humans continue to clear swathes of land and encroach on animal habitats.
World-renowned environmental expert Jane Goodall said in an interview with UK’s Channel 4, “We’ve done this to ourselves in a way, because this pandemic, or similar, has been predicted for years and years and years… We’ve been destroying the animals’ habitats, which means the animals themselves are crowded together, but it also means some of those animals are forced to move out and be in greater contact with humans. That’s how these pandemics start.”
These world leaders in the environment and health sectors have been outspoken about the issue as Covid-19 is not the first animal-borne disease that has made the jump to humans in recent years.
Zika, AIDS, SARS and Ebola have all been major diseases that have infected and killed large numbers of people in recent times.
The Zika virus was first discovered in rhesus monkeys. AIDS is believed to come from a mutated form of a chimpanzee immunodeficiency virus. SARS’ origin has not been officially verified, but is widely believed to have spread from bats, which are also the suspected source of the Ebola virus.
In each instance of the diseases, the expansion into these animals’ habitats and the interaction with humans has triggered infection outbreaks that threatened the world’s population.
“The unsafe handling, consumption and trade in high-risk wildlife species is just one example of the ways in which our broken relationship with nature is affecting human health,” Lambertini, Mrema and Neira said in their op-ed.
“In many countries, wild animals are captured and brought live to markets to be sold. However, unless well-managed and regulated, these markets can pose a significant risk to humans, wildlife and livestock, by bringing high-risk species – many of which are endangered – into close contact with other animals, wild and domesticated, and people, thereby creating the conditions for disease spillover.”
With the current Covid-19 pandemic source likely identified as bats, it is time that humans begin to focus on their role in these outbreaks and question whether the potential risks outweigh the benefits of continued environmental exploitation.
This post is also available in: KH