'We should start thinking about the next one': Coronavirus is just the first of many pandemics to come, environmentalists warn
"I am absolutely sure that there will be more diseases like this in the future if we continue with our practices of destroying the natural world," says marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala
Italy has recorded more coronavirus deaths than China and has seen intensive care departments (EPA) overwhelmed
The new coronavirus will not be the last pandemic to wreak havoc on humanity if we continue to ignore the links between infectious diseases and the destruction of the natural world, environmental experts warned.
Dr. Enric Sala, a marine ecologist and part of National Geographic's Campaign for Nature, told The Independent: “I am absolutely certain that there will be more diseases like this in the future if we continue our practices of destroying the natural world, deforestation and capturing wild animals as pets or as food and medicine ”.
The World Health Organization has reported 8,778 deaths and 209,839 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The virus is believed to have initially passed from animals to humans in a “wet market” selling produce, seafood and live animals in Wuhan, China, in December, but this is not yet confirmed.
Researchers in China have suggested that pangolins, mammals known as "scaly ant eaters," are the likely animal source of COVID-19, according to the scientific journal Nature.
Since then, China has banned the consumption and husbandry of wild animals and wildlife markets.
However, environmentalists warn of a broader issue: humanity's voracious destruction of diverse ecosystems that puts us in closer contact with wildlife than ever before.
David Quammen, author of the 2012 best-seller Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, became interested in infectious diseases while researching Ebola and has been warning about the risk of pandemics ever since.
He told The Independent: “Our highly diverse ecosystems are filled with many species of wild animals, plants, fungi and bacteria. All that biological diversity contains unique viruses.
“When we cut down tropical forests to build villages, logging and mining camps, kill or capture wild animals for food, we expose ourselves to these viruses.
“It's like you tear down an old barn and the dust flies. When you take down a rainforest, viruses fly. These moments of destruction represent an opportunity for unknown viruses to enter and take over humans. "
Dr Samuel Myers, senior research scientist at the Harvard Department of Environmental Health and director of the Planetary Health Alliance, told The Independent: “Human forays into wildlife habitat bring people closer to populations of life. wild.
"What we know is that other animals are a huge reservoir of pathogens, many of which we have not yet been exposed to."
Vector-borne diseases, those of living organisms that can transmit infectious pathogens between humans or from animals to humans, account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases and cause more than 700,000 deaths each year, according to the WHO.
They have increased over time. About 30 new infectious diseases emerged during the 1950s, according to a study published in the journal Nature. In the 1980s, that number tripled.
We have previously seen the spread of other zoonotic diseases such as HIV, Ebola, SARS, MERS, and Zika.
Dr Myers said: “The HIV and Ebola epidemic was thought to have arisen from hunting bushmeat. MERS and SARS came out of live animals "wet markets".
"In the living markets of Wuhan, for example, there were an extraordinary number of exotic species alive in cages, all close to each other and to humans in a way that you would never find in the natural world."
He added: “It is a combination of the size of the human ecological footprint and globalization. Once a pathogen has made that leap from animals to humans, it has the ability to spread rapidly around the world with air travel. "
Regulation and education on the dangers of wildlife consumption play a role in risk mitigation.
Quammen said: “There are people around the world desperate for protein who eat wild animals. It is not something I want to demonize as a Chinese vice.
"There are so many of us starved for resources that as we reduce wildlife to these little remnants, we offer ourselves as a target of opportunity for viruses."
Dr Sala said: “When it comes to populations that depend on the exploitation of nature for their daily lives, alternatives must be provided.
“Governments have a key role in establishing policies that protect the natural world and regulate or prohibit the trade in wildlife. Businesses can help. The world already produces enough food for 10 billion people, we alone waste a third of it. "
The fight against climate change plays a key role, as rising temperatures create more favorable conditions for the spread of diseases.
Dr Myers said: "We are aware that malaria is found at higher latitudes and at higher altitudes, such as in the highlands of Kenya, where we never used to see temperatures this high."
Dr. Myers points out that the destruction of the natural world extends well beyond infectious disease outbreaks.
“We are seeing impacts on the quality and quantity of food we produce; exposure to non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases along with impacts on mental health, population displacement and conflict, "he said.
With the loss of biodiversity and a growing world population, expected to increase by 2 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050, searching for food sources, the question of the next pandemic is not if, but when, warn the experts.
“If we have [COVID-19] under control, then we can be happy with human ingenuity and we will manage to control it. But after celebrating for five minutes, we should start thinking about the next one, ”said David Quammen.
A radical change is needed that includes establishing the crucial link between human health and the conservation of the planet.
Dr. Sala said: “They are not disconnected. There is no sustainable human health without a healthy ecosystem. These infectious diseases that we have experienced in the last 20 years are the best proof of this.
“Keeping wild places intact, prohibiting hunting and trafficking of wildlife species, many of which are in danger, would not only be practical but also beneficial in terms of human health and economy.
"For governments and policy makers, it will be very clear that investing in protecting our natural world is the most profitable they can make."