How nature can help protect us from pandemics

TGIWED!! It’s called thank god it’s world environment day.

It’s a day we get to tell you about how all living things on Earth are connected in the web of life. And how nature can actually prevent the occurrence of pandemics. It’s time #ForNature

The coronavirus has proved to be devastating to human lives and the economy. We’ve never seen anything like this. The virus has caused mass disruption to our lives and affected the most vulnerable of us. It’s natural to feel that we got the raw end of the deal when we got this virus from nature.

 

 

But it’s the other way around. This unprecedented crisis is our own making. 

The pandemic has been exacerbated by our unacceptable environmental practices. As impossible as it might sound, the pandemic, climate change, and biodiversity of our planet are deeply connected. 

Let’s get back to the basics A vast majority of infectious diseases come from animals. We call them zoonotic diseases. HIV, Bird-flu, Zika, MERS, SARS, Ebola, have all transferred from animals to humans. These diseases enter humans through contact with wildlife and livestock. 

 

 

According to a study, 60% of infectious diseases originate from animals, and 70% of emerging infectious diseases originate from wildlife. AIDS, for example, came from chimpanzees, and SARS is thought to have been transmitted from a bat or civet cat. 

 

If you harm nature, you pay for it

Loss of biodiversity aids the spread of these infectious diseases. We have lost 60% of all wildlife in the last 50 years, while the number of new infectious diseases has quadrupled in the last 60 years.

According to a study, deforestation and loss of wildlife are major factors that have resulted in an increase in diseases. By reducing the natural habitat of animals through deforestation and other unsustainable practices like clearing land for commercialization, we are unknowingly inviting animal species to live in close quarters with humans, thereby risking animal-borne diseases. It’s like dragging harmless microbes to create havoc in the human kingdom.

For example, take COVID-19. Scientists have traced its origin from a wet trade market selling live animals in Wuhan. This virus is believed to have originated in a bat or civet cat and transmitted to humans. When we exploit wildlife through trading, we are creating a road between harmful microbes and human bodies. 

The Ecology of Disease by Olaf Hajek depicts how human interference has led to a pandemic

 

This is not the only case. In the Amazon, deforestation has increased the rate of malaria since deforested land is the ideal habitat of mosquitoes. A study published this year found that deforestation in Uganda was increasing the emergence of animal-to-human diseases and stresses that human behavior is the underlying cause. 

When animals live in their natural habitat, the forests, it’s highly unlikely for the diseases to transfer to humans. Nature provides a buffer between disease-carrying microbes and us humans. Altering nature too much or in the wrong way, therefore, can have devastating human implications.

TLDR – The animals need to have their homes intact. If they don’t, they come to live near us. And we don’t have the same immunity to microbes as them.

 

Climate change- a risk multiplier

Wait, what? Climate change here too? Pollution causing pandemics?

Short answer – Yes.

Long answer – Habitat loss and shifting climate zones are causing wildlife to migrate to human settlements and new places where they interact with other species, giving birth to new microbes or worst of all creating a channel for transmission. 

To top it all, climate change is majorly responsible for animals and birds getting extinct. A virus called the West Nile virus found in the migratory birds of Africa posed no real threat to the USA for hundreds of years until 1999. This is because the diversity of bird species like woodpeckers and rails were bad carriers. Over time the population of woodpeckers and rail declined in number and generalist species like crows and robins interacted with the migratory birds. But these birds live in close contact with the human population and are good carriers of viruses increasing the threat of the West Nile virus.

 

 

Air pollution further exacerbates the situation. For diseases like Covid-19, which causes respiratory illness, exposure to air pollution makes infected individuals vulnerable. Aerosols or other particular matter in the polluted air act as transport for pathogens and contribute to the spread of the virus across a large radius. 

So yeah, everything is connected and the more climate change and pollution increase, the tougher it is to be insulated from diseases.

 

It’s time #ForNature

What we see is climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pandemics are closely related. Our environment has provided us with a protective shield against harmful infectious diseases. Thriving ecosystems have prevented the transmission of threatening viruses to humans for thousands of years. 

But, our exploitation of the environment has left us in a lurch and will continue to do so until we focus on biodiversity conservation and stabilize the climate. The theme for world environment day is biodiversity, to make humans aware of the urgency of preserving our environment.

The coronavirus crisis prompts us to revise our actions and the way we treat our nature. It’s time we cease exploitation of nature, #fornature, and for our own health. Because when we protect nature, we protect ourselves. 

As quoted by Biologist and writer, Rachel Carson, “But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself”

We broke it, and we’re paying for it. It just makes sense that we fix it.

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