By Seema Pavgi Upadhye
Dr Peter Daszak, who is preparing the next Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) assessment, writes that rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development as well as the exploitation of wild species, all have created a “perfect storm” for the spillover of diseases. These activities can cause pandemics by bringing more people into contact and conflicts with animals, from which 70% of emerging human diseases originate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled us to think again that whether this all is due to heavy destruction of the natural world or due to some other reason(s).
If we see nature then all living organisms are attached either within a food chain or food web. Whether we stand anywhere in chain? Which make us think whether we are required in nature or not? If we are not required then at least we should make ourselves useful to the nature, but ultimately we are playing a role of a villain not a hero.
Urbanisation and explosive growth of global air travel has enabled a harmless virus in Asian bats to bring lot of human suffering and put a halt for economies and societies around the world. If we call SARS-CoV2 a human made pandemic then we can say the COVID -19 is only beginning.
The list of diseases that have jumped from animals to humans (“zoonotic diseases”) includes HIV, Ebola, Zika, Hendra, SARS, MERS and bird flu. Like its precursor SARS, SARS- CoV2 is thought to have originated in bats and subsequently transmitted to humans via another animal host, possibly at a wet market which involve in trading of live animals in Wuhan, China.
Ebola virus emerged in Central Africa when land use changed and altered climatic conditions forced bats and chimpanzees to come together around concentrated areas of food resources. Hendra virus is associated with urbanisation of fruit bats following habitat loss. Such changes are occurring worldwide.
Climate change makes us more vulnerable to such pandemics. Climate change is undermining human health globally in other profound ways. It is a risk multiplier, exacerbating our vulnerability to a range of health threats.
Earlier this year, all eyes were on the life-threatening bushfires and the resulting blanket of smoke pollution. This exposed more than half of the Australian population to health harm for many weeks, and led to the deaths of more than 400 people. For infectious communicable diseases such as COVID-19, air pollution creates another risk. This new virus causes a respiratory illness and, as with SARS, exposure to air pollution worsens our vulnerability. Particles of air pollution also act as transporter of pathogens, contributing to the spread of viruses and infectious disease across large distances.
Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we will not become extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today.
It is indeed essential that trillions of dollars must be invested to save environment, which will ultimately save human health.
Professor Thomas Lovejoy, at the United Nations foundation and George Mason University in the US, who coined the term “ Biological diversity “ in 1980, said that the pandemic is not nature’s revenge; we did it to ourselves. It is due to our persistent and excessive intrusion in nature and the vast illegal wildlife trade, and the wet markets.
The growing global demand for food, fibre, fuels, shelter and freshwater is driving the loss and degradation of natural forests, wetlands, coastal areas and other ecosystems. It has had devastating consequences for biodiversity and the life-sustaining services that ecosystems provide, such as clean air, safe drinking water and a stable climate. Biodiversity (all biological diversity from genes, to species, to ecosystems) is declining faster than at any time in human history.
The explosive growth of towns and cities and land use changes — forestry, agriculture, mining — destroyed an astonishing 3.3 million square kilometres of terrestrial wilderness (an area larger than India) between 1993 and 2009.
The high seas haven’t escaped the breadth and reach of human activity either. Today, industrial fisheries, pollution and marine traffic are threatening more than 87 per cent of the world’s oceans.
Studies like these have helped draw attention to the astonishing pace and scale of global habitat loss at a time when policy-makers are expected to increase the coverage of protected areas.
We are fast approaching the 2020 deadline for achieving the United Nations’ Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, including Target 11. That initiative obligates countries to protect 17 per cent of terrestrial areas and inland water, and 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas.
A mid-term analysis of progress on the Aichi Targets, published in 2014, showed that most countries would likely fail to meet their own goals. But there is a promising way forward where countries can protect biodiversity and recognize Indigenous peoples as conservation partners.
The Aichi Biodiversity Targets
Strategic Goal A- Address the underlying causes of Biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society.
Strategic Goal B- Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use.