How Deforestation Increases the Risk of Disease Outbreaks Like COVID-19
Wildlife destruction increases the possibility of viruses jumping from species to species.
Far from decreasing, deforestation has exploded in recent years, threatening countless species and destroying vital ecosystems.
Still, some scientists think that the pandemic will cause countries to prioritize the health of the planet in an effort to prevent future health crises.
"I’m hopeful that one of the most positive things to come out of horrible tragedy will be the realization that there is a link between how we treat the forest and our well-being," Tierra Smiley Evans, an epidemiologist at the University of California, told the Guardian. "It really impacts our health. It is not just a wildlife issue or an environmental issue."
As natural habitats for wild animals shrink due to human activity, various creatures are forced to interact more with each other, making it more likely that a virus will mutate between different species.
"The problem is when you put different species that aren’t naturally close to one another in the same environment, that allows virus mutations to jump to other species," Alessandra Nava from the Biobank research center based in Manaus told the Guardian.
To make matters worse, wild animals may also be forced to migrate into areas more heavily inhabited by humans.
"As natural habitat is diminished, wildlife come into closer contact with people," Dr. Christine Johnson of the University of California, Davis, told the BBC News last month.
The CDC reports that 3 out of 4 new or emerging infectious diseases come from animals, and 6 out of 10 known infectious diseases in humans can come from animals.
COVID-19 originated in bats, according to the World Health Organization, but it is unclear how or through which animals the disease was transmitted to humans. Roger Frutos, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Montpellier, co-authored a study in 2018 warning of the risk of a novel coronavirus emerging from bats — linking the likelihood to environmental changes.
"When you cut down trees and remove the forest, you eliminate the natural environment of some species," he told CNBC. "But those species don’t just disappear."
"We instead create a patchwork, a mosaic of their environment that’s closer to ours, with houses that attract insects or sheds where bats can rest and find shelter," he added.
The equivalent of 27 soccer fields’ worth of forest is being lost every minute, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and deforestation has been getting worse over the past five years. It is a significant problem in the Amazon rainforest — a major source of biodiversity — where 17% of the forest has been lost in the past 50 years, according to the WWF, and deforestation in Brazil continues to increase.