Ecosystem degradation could raise risk of pandemics

June 30, 2020

ENVIRONMENTAL destruction may make pandemics more likely and less manageable. 

Using a framework designed to analyze and communicate complex relationships between society and the environment, the study suggested 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 by undermining water and other resources essential for reducing disease transmission and mitigating the impact of emerging infectious diseases.

Researchers believed that ecosystems naturally restrain the transfer of diseases from animals to humans, but this service declines as ecosystems become degraded.

"Disease risk cannot be dissociated from ecosystem conservation and natural resource security," the study said.

Dr. David Santillo, of the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at Exeter, added: "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."

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 (in line with the goals of the 2021-2030 UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration) keeping the many values of nature and human rights at the very forefront of environmental and economic policy-making.