A World Wide Fund (WWF) in a report on Wednesday has said that wildlife trade and deforestation have led to more human-animal interaction resulting in the emergence of new zoonotic disease outbreaks.
Zoonotic diseases are viral infections that are transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans. In its report titled 'COVID-19: Urgent Call To Protect People And Nature', WWF called for urgent global action to address the key drivers which will cause zoonotic disease outbreaks in the future.
"In recent decades, people have increasingly encroached upon the natural world, resulting in escalating levels of contact between humans, livestock and wildlife. As a result, the frequency and number of new zoonotic diseases, originating in animals and transmitted to people, has risen drastically over the last century," the report said.
"Every year, around three to four new zoonotic diseases are emerging. These new diseases pose a grave threat to human health, causing deadly pandemics including HIV/AIDS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and most recently COVID-19," it added.
The report said environmental factors such as trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife, land-use change leading to deforestation and conversion, expansion of agriculture and unsustainable intensification and animal production are driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases.
"We must urgently recognize the links between the destruction of nature and human health, or we will soon see the next pandemic. 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," Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International said.
"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," Lambertini added.
While questions remain about the exact origins of COVID-19, available evidence suggests that it is a zoonotic disease, WWF said.
The report added that addressing high-risk wildlife trade and consumption in isolation will not be enough to prevent the next pandemic. Land conversion for food and livestock production is destroying and fragmenting natural habitats around the world, and increasing interactions between wildlife, livestock and humans.
"The amount of land converted for food and livestock production is increasing at a rapid rate in order to feed a growing global population. 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. The loss of primary forest and grasslands has continued to grow in recent years, mainly driven by commodity production and shifting agriculture," the report said.
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 the sustainable natural world has been the basic asset for the success of our civilization, and will continue to be so in future," he added.Also Read: India's Coastal, Marine Ecosystems Under Increasing Threat Due To Overexploitation Of Resources: IUCN