World Environment Day 2020: From causing infectious diseases to reduction in food sources, here's how biodiversity loss impacts us
Biodiversity loss has an indirect but vital impact on the climate, and the last few years have witnessed some of the greatest impacts of climate change on life.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or where you plan to go from here - your existence will always be contingent on nature. Everything you do - from the oxygen you breathe, the food you eat to the livelihood you’ve created for yourself - depends on nature and what she has to provide.
And yet, nature and the environment it has created for our sustenance, are ill-treated and misused every year to the extent that biological diversity - the thing that supports our very existence - is facing a huge crisis. World Environment Day, which is observed by the United Nations and all its partners on 5 June every year, is famed for spurring environmental action across the world. This year’s theme is “Time for nature”, which intends to focus on biodiversity and its immense importance for all life on earth.
Why do we even need biodiversity?
If the COVID-19 pandemic has proved anything, it’s the fact that biodiversity loss not only affects us but also destroys the very world we live in and the things we depend on. As the United Nations points out, infectious diseases are one of the greatest causes of global mortality, and 75% of those are zoonotic in nature - which means that they’re transmitted from animals to humans.
The fact is, the greatest sources of human sustenance depend on a balanced ecosystem. The more denudation and degradation the ecosystem endures, the lesser the resources and opportunities for human survival and sustenance will be. There are at least four different ways in which biodiversity loss directly impacts your health:
1. Nutritional impact
No, this is not about non-vegetarianism or veganism. All the healthiest foods, plant- or animal-based, come to us from nature. Mindless use and destruction of these food sources will leave us with not only less nutritious options but also weakened immunities to go with them. For example, the greater demand for almond milk in the world is being met with the exploitation of bee populations.
Bees perform an essential function in the ecosystem by aiding pollination. So, you might get almond milk to drink now, but if this trend of abuse continues then there might be a day when there’s no almond, honey or fruits that depend on pollination.
2. Therapeutic impact
The World Health Organization (WHO) points out that traditional medicine - which heavily depends on nature’s bounty of micronutrients - is estimated to be used by 60 percent of the world’s population. So, apart from food, a large part of plant life is also the source of medications and forms the basis of public healthcare systems around the world. What’s more, there are still innumerable resources on this planet which have potential medicinal benefits, and these will be left undiscovered if biodiversity loss continues at its current rate.
3. Climate change and habitat conversion
Biodiversity loss has an indirect but vital impact on the climate, and the last few years have witnessed some of the greatest impacts of climate change on life. From the rise in air pollution levels and the health risks associated with it to a larger number of natural disasters like severe cyclones, hurricanes, bushfires, etc, they all indicate just how dire the situation is becoming.
Climate change inevitably leads to changes in the natural habitat of animals as well as humans, which is increasingly leading to extinction - even culling - of species and smaller regions where life can exist safely. This is not only making life tenuous for humans but also increasing the dangers and health risks too.
4. Infectious impact
So, this is how zoonotic infections work - microorganisms and viruses that previously lived in other species are jumping ship for their survival as the existence of said species is threatened - after all, evolution is all about survival of the fittest. These viruses are making their way into human populations, leading to a rise in infectious diseases which are not only highly contagious but also fatal in some cases. The infectious impact of biodiversity loss is perfectly portrayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected millions and killed lakhs of people until now.
For more information, read our article on World’s deadliest viruses.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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