GUWAHATI, June 20 - While the world continues to grapple with the devastating consequences of COVID-19, WWF is calling for urgent global action to address the key drivers which will cause future zoonotic disease outbreaks.
In a new report ‘COVID 19: urgent call to protect people and nature’, WWF says that the environmental factors driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases are: the trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife, land-use change leading to deforestation and conversion, expansion of agriculture and unsustainable intensification and animal production. Numerous warnings from scientists and thought leaders, such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), have been made about the risk of a global pandemic.
WEF ranked pandemics and infectious diseases as one of the top global risks over a decade ago, posing ‘an acute threat to human life’.
Stressing the need for urgently recognising the links between the destruction of Nature and human health, Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, said that one would soon see the next pandemic if the emerging disturbing signs are ignored.
“We must curb the high-risk trade and consumption of wildlife, halt deforestation and land conversion as well as manage food production sustainably. All these actions will help prevent the spillover of pathogens to humans, and also address other global risks to our society like biodiversity loss and climate change. There is no debate, and the science is clear; we must work with Nature, not against it. Unsustainable exploitation of Nature has become an enormous risk to us all,” he said.
Questions remain about the exact origins of COVID-19, but all available evidence suggests that it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from wildlife to humans. The government of China announced a comprehensive ban on the consumption of wild animals on February 24, which WWF supports, and now, the National People’s Congress (NPC) is supporting the revision of the existing law on the protection of wildlife, which, if implemented in full, could position China’s Wildlife Protection Law as one of the world’s most robust and stringent. Other governments must also follow suit and close their high-risk wildlife markets and end this trade once and for all.
However, addressing high-risk wildlife trade and consumption in isolation will not be enough to prevent the next pandemic, as the unsustainable global food system is driving large-scale conversion of natural spaces for agriculture, fragmenting natural ecosystems and increasing interactions between wildlife, livestock and humans. Since 1990, 178 million hectares of forest have been cleared, which is equivalent to the size of Libya, the 18th largest country in the world, and around 10 million hectares of forest are still being lost each year through conversion to agriculture and other land uses.
Ravi Singh, Secretary General and CEO, WWF India, said, “It’s hard to think right now beyond the tragic impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis. But, it is also an opportune moment for us to act if we are to deliver a recovery that benefits people and Nature. The challenge and opportunity before us today is to begin to think of development through the lens of environmental health. It is imperative to look at the link between the health of Nature and humanity and adopt more sustainable methods of production and consumption for a green and just recovery from the pandemic. A productive, diverse, and sustainable natural world has been the basic asset for the success of our civilisation, and will continue to be so in future.”
The COVID-19 crisis demonstrates that systemic changes must be made to address the environmental drivers of pandemics. WWF is advocating a ‘One Health’ approach linking the health of people, animals and our shared environment and wants this to be included in decision-making on wildlife and land use change. This should also be incorporated within all business and financing decisions, particularly related to global health.