Animal

Cutting down the rainforests ‘risks new pandemic’


‘Every hectare’ of forest removed ‘risks a new pandemic’, according to one wildlife group (Picture: WWF)

A wildlife group is warning that more destruction of the natural world will make future pandemics more likely. 

With the coronavirus crisis widely linked to a wet market selling animal products in China, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has told Metro.co.uk that cutting down trees will bring wild animals closer to humans – increasing the chance of them spreading diseases. 

Branding deforestation ‘one of the biggest threats to human health’, the organisation is particularly concerned about the Amazon rainforest. Tree clearing has been linked to a wide variety of environmental issues as well as possible disease spreading – and the WWF claims that ‘every hectare’ removed ‘risks a new pandemic’. 

Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns Kate Norgrove said: ‘To prevent future pandemics we must stop destroying our natural world. Around 70% of emerging infectious diseases come from animals. When we destroy natural habitats, like the Amazon, we force wildlife and humans together, increasing our risk of infection. Making money from deforestation by seizing indigenous lands for farming, is short term gain for long term pain.’

The intervention comes after a world-leading expert on diseases said the climate crisis could lead to dangerous microbes thawing in the Arctic

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Dr Dennis Carroll told Metro.co.uk that humanity ‘should be exceedingly cautious about underestimating the potential threats’ from reborn microbes, as the planet warms. 

Environmentalists have repeatedly linked ecological issues to possible disease outbreaks, with loss of wild animals’ habitat considered a major issue. Trees are often cut down to allow for the growth of urban areas or for more farming.  

In April, deforestation increased 64% compared to the same month in 2019, according to the WWF, which says 405.6 km² was lost, compared to 247.7 km² last year. 

Fires in the Amazon rainforest have led to mass deforestation (Picture: WWF/Michael Dantas)
Loss of habitat brings animals that carry diseases closer to humans (Picture: Luis Barreto/WWF)

Mike Barrett, WWF’s Executive Director of Science and Conservation, added: ’Deforestation is now one of the biggest threats to human health, as well as to our climate and every hectare that is cleared risks a new pandemic. 

‘If we’re going to protect human health, we need to protect the health of our planet – they are one and the same.’

Deforestation can also result in changing weather patterns, the loss of certain animal and plant species and ‘desertification’. 

Trees themselves have been branded the ‘lungs of the planet’, because — like the oceans — they remove CO2 and convert it into oxygen. So scientists fear cutting them down could cause ‘feedback loops’ making the environment significantly worse.

Colombia, as well as Bolivia and Brazil, has been the site of deforestation (Picture: Luis Barreto/WWF)
A timber-loaded truck drives through Brazil (Picture: Marizilda Cruppe/WWF)

But it is the threat to animals’ habitats that could lead to them spreading new infections by coming into closer contact with humans. 

Mr Barrett continued: ‘The science is clear – human health and the health of our planet are undeniably linked. To stop future pandemics we must stop destroying habitats such as forests and exploiting nature. 

‘Intensive farming and agricultural expansion into wild areas is creating a petri dish for new viruses to emerge.’

Between August 2019 and April 2020, deforestation in the Amazon reached 5,666 km² – roughly the size of Paris, twice over. It is the around 94% as large as the area deforested in the same periods in 2018 and 2019 combined.

Environmental activists have accused new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of allowing deforestation in the Amazon to grow rapidly, notably in ‘deliberately started’ fires.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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