Pandemics could occur more frequently, be less manageable due to environmental degradation

Researchers conclude that maintaining fully functioning ecosystems can have environmental and health benefits which is key to preventing new pandemics.


Environmental degradation, including deforestation, land-use change and agricultural intensification, may make pandemics more likely and less manageable, according to a study.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Policy, presents the hypothesis that disease risks are "ultimately interlinked" with biodiversity and natural processes such as the water cycle.

The researchers at the University of the West of England and the University of Exeter in the UK used a framework designed to analyse and communicate complex relationships between society and the environment.

 Pandemics could occur more frequently, be less manageable due to environmental degradation

illegal logging on Pirititi indigenous amazon lands with a repository of round logs on May 8, 2018 Image credit: Felipe Werneck/Ibama via flickr via AP

They conclude that maintaining intact and fully functioning ecosystems and their associated environmental and health benefits is key to preventing the emergence of new pandemics.

The loss of these benefits through ecosystem degradation -- including deforestation, land use change and agricultural intensification -- further compounds the problem, according to the researchers.

This happens by undermining water and other resources essential for reducing disease transmission and mitigating the impact of emerging infectious diseases, they said.

"Ecosystems naturally restrain the transfer of diseases from animals to humans, but this service declines as ecosystems become degraded,” said study lead author Mark Everard, of the University of the West of England.

"At the same time, ecosystem degradation undermines water security, limiting availability of adequate water for good hand hygiene, sanitation and disease treatment," Everard said.

He said the disease risk cannot be dissociated from ecosystem conservation and natural resource security.

"The speed and scale with which radical actions have been taken in so many countries to limit the health and financial risks from COVID-19 demonstrate that radical systemic change would also be possible in order to deal with other global existential threats, such as the climate emergency and collapse of biodiversity, provided the political will is there to do so," said David Santillo, of the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at Exeter.

The researchers said the lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that societies globally need to "build back better", including protecting and restoring damaged ecosystems keeping the many values of nature and human rights at the very forefront of environmental and economic policy-making.


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