The Cost of Slowing Deforestation to Prevent the Next Pandemic

Nature

A group of experts ranging from biologists, medical scientists, environmental scientists, and conservationists offered several recommendations to avert another pandemic. Since many of these pandemics originate from wild animals such as bats, the team suggests that billions of dollars should be spent to focus on the reduction of deforestation, restricting wildlife trade, and supporting communities living on the forest’s edge is the key. Prevention of pandemics instead of spending trillions of dollars per year to cure an epidemic is a more strategic action.

A video by Les Kaufman, professor of biology at Boston University, and a member of the research team presented salient points to prevent another pandemic from happening.

 

READ: Vietnam Bans Wildlife Trade to Reduce Pandemic Risk 


How can we prevent the emergence of zoonoses? 

According to Kaufman, the cost of dealing with COVID-19 will be in the tune of tens of trillions of dollars globally. 

To lessen the cost, the team suggests spending about $22 billion to $30 billion per year on programs that will reduce the chances of a future pandemic from emerging.

Every year, at least two potentially pandemic pathogens emerge into human populations. In every one or two decades, these pathogens may succeed to be another global pandemic. 

This particular study focused on zoonoses, the diseases that are transmitted into the human population from animals.

Coronaviruses, for example, are harbored by the bats in the wild. Bats can tolerate high viral load; thus, their response to the virus as much different from humans. These bats have essential ecological functions like pollinating our crops and controlling insect pests. Maintaining such a relationship keeps contact with bats at bay.

READ ALSO: Poaching Endangered Animals, COVID-19, and Climate Change: How Are They Related? 


How do zoonoses spread? 

Deforestation has recently accelerated mainly to give way to crops such as oil palm or acacia, thereby opening more road networks. These road networks lull more business opportunities such as hunting, wildlife trade, especially for traditional medicine. 

The Cost of Slowing Deforestation to Prevent the Next Pandemic

(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Experts suggests that billions of dollars should be spent to focus on reduction of deforestation, restricting wildlife trade and supporting communities living on the forest’s edge is the key to prevent pandemic.

Communities living near these forests tend to trap the wildlife, send it to wet markets where more trapped wildlife are cramped into unhygienic conditions. In some cases, it is sold directly for consumption. The transmission may be from the wildlife, or from other animals that came in contact with infected wildlife.  

Wildlife would also tend to forage and stay in our homes or farms when their habitats are destroyed. 


Billions of dollars spent

The billions of dollars per year may sound like a lot of money, but it is way cheaper than spending trillions of dollars (and not to mention opportunities lost) to prevent the spread and cure a single pandemic. The billions of dollars must be allocated on arresting deforestation, regulating trade in wildlife bush meat, reducing forest intrusions. 

More benefits could arise to this: biodiversity is conserved, increase carbon dioxide absorption of the forests, arresting climate change. It could also promote non-timber forest products as livelihood opportunities for those who are living in the woods. 

The team emphasized that the key to the whole thing is that the people living in the forests should have better opportunities: access to a decent livelihood, good health care, access to education for the children.


How to deal with deforestation and bushmeat trading

The team of experts suggested drafting and implementing sound policies on deforestation and bush meat trading. Here are some of the suggestions:

  • For fragmented forests, the team of experts suggests that it should heal, reconnect the forest fragments to make it continuous, so the wildlife is not foraging on our crops and invading our homes but stays in the forests.
  • People living in forested areas should also be provided with adequate health care, education, and livelihood opportunities to stop selling wildlife products and contributing to deforestation.
  • Regulate trade of wildlife that are potential pathogen vectors. International laws on the sale of threatened and endangered species must be strictly implemented. 

READ NEXT: Extinction Rates Seem to Be Faster Than Expected, Should We Ban Wildlife Trade?

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