More zoonotic disease outbreaks if we keep exploiting wildlife, UN warns

More zoonotic disease outbreaks if we keep exploiting wildlife, UN warns
Bats were probably the source of the current coronavirus pandemic. Source: Reuters
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Daily US Times: UN experts have warned more zoonotic disease – which jump from animals to humans – are increasing and will continue to do in the future if proper action is not taken to protect wildlife and preserve the environment.

They blame the rise in diseases such as Covid-19 on high demand for animal protein, climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices.

The experts say neglected zoonotic disease kill two million people a year.

The current coronavirus pandemic is set to cost the global economy $9tn (£7.2tn) over two years.

Ebola, Sars and West Nile virus are also all zoonotic diseases: they started in animals and made the jump to humans.

What did the report say?

According to the report by the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Livestock Research Institute, that jump is not automatic, rather it causes by degradation of our natural environment – for example through wildlife exploitation, land degradation, resource extraction and climate change. This alters the way humans and animals interact.

Inger Andersen, under-secretary general and executive director of the UN Environment Programme said: “In the last century we have seen at least six major outbreaks of novel coronaviruses.”

“Over the last two decades and before Covid-19, zoonotic diseases caused economic damage of $100bn (£80bn).”

She said that two million people in middle- and low-income countries die each year from neglected endemic zoonotic diseases – such as bovine tuberculosis, anthrax, and rabies.

Ms Andersen pointed out that meat production has increased by 260% in the last 50 years.

The report offers governments strategies on how to prevent future outbreaks, such as improving biodiversity, incentivizing sustainable land management and investing in scientific research.

To prevent future outbreaks, we must become much more deliberate about protecting our natural environment, Ms Andersen said.

The report urged to unite human, animal, and environmental health to prevent the next pandemic.

The UN report identifies seven trends driving the increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases, including a rise in intense and unsustainable farming; increased demand for animal protein; the climate crisis and the increased use and exploitation of wildlife. The report finds that Africa in particular, which has experienced and responded to a number of zoonotic epidemics including most recently, to Ebola outbreaks, could be a source of important solutions to quell future outbreaks.

The current COVID-19 has already caused more than half a million deaths around the world, which was most likely originated in bats. But COVID-19 is only the latest in a growing number of diseases – including MERS, Ebola, West Nile fever and Rift Valley fever – whose spread from animal hosts into human populations has been intensified by anthropogenic pressures.

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