Destruction of Nature Is Triggering Pandemics, Say Leaders of WWF, UN and WHO
Leaders from three international NGOs — the United Nations, the World Health Organization and WWF International — teamed up to issue a stark warning that pandemics like the coronavirus are a direct result of the destruction of nature caused by humans.
In an op-ed published by The Guardian, top figures from each organization argued that the wildlife trade, coupled with the destruction of forests and other habitats for wildlife, is causing a large number of animal diseases to migrate to human hosts.
The op-ed was written by Marco Lambertini, director general of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International; Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity; Maria Neira, director of the World Health Organization department of environment, climate change and health.
In their call to action ahead of the UN biodiversity summit in September, the three senior representatives cited examples from prior incidents of environmental destruction that triggered new viruses in humans.
"We have seen many diseases emerge over the years — such as Zika, AIDS, SARS and Ebola — and although they are quite different at first glance, they all originated from animal populations under conditions of severe environmental pressures," they wrote, adding those examples "all illustrate that our destructive behavior toward nature is endangering our own health."
As The Washington Post noted, the novel coronavirus that has led to a global pandemic likely started in a bat — the same host that was also linked to SARS, Ebola and MERS, among other viruses.
The three authors call for a green and healthy recovery in the wake of COVID-19. They note the importance of ending farming practices that destroy nature and the need to reform meat-intensive diets. And yet, they're watching the world go the wrong way.
"Worryingly, while COVID-19 has given us yet another reason to protect and preserve nature, we have actually seen the reverse take place," the authors write. "From the Greater Mekong to the Amazon and Madagascar, alarming reports have emerged of increased poaching, illegal logging and forest fires, while many countries are engaging in hasty environmental rollbacks and cuts in funding for conservation. This all comes at a time when we need it most."
A WWF report titled COVID 19: urgent call to protect people and nature was also published Wednesday. It warns: "The risk of a new [wildlife-to-human] disease emerging in the future is higher than ever, with the potential to wreak havoc on health, economies and global security," as The Guardian reported.
As Oceanographic Magazine reports, the WWF report shows that 60 to 70 percent of new diseases since 1990 started in wildlife. During the same time period, an area of forests measuring roughly seven times the area of the UK has been destroyed.
"We must urgently recognize the links between the destruction of nature and human health, or we will soon see the next pandemic," said Lambertini, in a WWF press release that accompanied the new report. "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."
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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