Leaders at the UN, WHO and WWF International have said that the destruction of nature is the cause of pandemics such as COVID-19, yet the world has been ignoring this reality for years.
The leaders told the Guardian that the devastation of forests, as well as unsustainable wildlife trade, are the factors driving the increase in the number of diseases jumping from animals to humans.
They are advising that destructive farming methods be reformed, as well as the avoidance of unsustainable diets, in order to have a green and healthy recovery from the current coronavirus pandemic.
A report published last week by the WWF said: “The risk of a new [wildlife-to-human] disease emerging in the future is higher than ever, with the potential to wreak havoc on health, economies and global security.”
Earlier this month, the UN environment chief described COVID-19 as a ‘SOS signal for the human enterprise’ and that current economic philosophy did not acknowledge the link between nature’s health and human wealth.
In the Guardian article, the head of the UN convention on biological diversity, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the head of WWF International, Marco Lambertini, and the World Health Organization director for environment and health, Maria Neira, said: “We have seen many diseases emerge over the years, such as Zika, Aids, Sars and Ebola and they all originated from animal populations under conditions of severe environmental pressures.
“We must embrace a just, healthy and green recovery and kickstart a wider transformation towards a model that values nature as the foundation for a healthy society. Not doing so, and instead attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, health systems, and social safety nets, has already proven to be a false economy. The bill will be paid many times over.”
According to the WWF report, the key factors that cause diseases to move from wildlife to humans are the intensification of agriculture and livestock production, the destruction of nature, and the consumption and trade of high-risk wildlife.
Scientists have said that a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy is the single biggest way that people can reduce their impact on the environment.
Head of WWF UK, Tanya Steele, said that there should be provisions made for the protection of nature in the new post-Brexit trade deals: “We cannot be complicit in increasing the risk of the next pandemic. We need strong legislation and trade deals that stop us importing food that is the result of rampant deforestation or whose production ignores poor welfare and environmental standards in producer countries. The government has a golden opportunity to make transformative, world-leading change happen.”
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