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Covid-19: Fear over rise in animal-to-human diseases

07 Jul 2020 08:27, Somoy English Desk
Covid-19: Fear over rise in animal-to-human diseases
Photo: REUTERS

UN experts have warned that, Zoonotic diseases - which jump from animals to humans - are increasing and will continue to do so without action to protect wildlife and preserve the environment.

They blame the rise in diseases such as coronavirus  on high demand for animal protein, unsustainable agricultural practices and climate change, reports BBC.

They say, Neglected zoonotic diseases kill two million people a year.

Coronavirus is set to cost the global economy $9tn (£7.2tn) over two years.

Ebola, West Nile virus and Sars are also all zoonotic diseases: they started in animals, and made the jump to humans.

What did the report say?

But that jump is not automatic. It is driven, according to the report by the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Livestock Research Institute, by the degradation of our natural environment - for example through land degradation, wildlife exploitation, resource extraction and climate change. This alters the way animals and humans interact.

Inger Andersen, under-secretary general and executive director of the UN Environment Programme said, "In the last century we have seen at least six major outbreaks of novel coronaviruses,".

"Over the last two decades and before Covid-19, zoonotic diseases caused economic damage of $100bn (£80bn)."

"Two million people in low- and middle-income countries die each year from neglected endemic zoonotic diseases - such as anthrax, bovine tuberculosis and rabies", she said.

"These are often communities with complex development problems, high dependence on livestock and proximity to wildlife."

Ms Andersen said that, Meat production, for example, has increased by 260% in the last 50 years.

She explained that, "We have intensified agriculture, expanded infrastructure and extracted resources at the expense of our wild spaces".

"Dams, irrigation and factory farms are linked to 25% of infectious diseases in humans. Travel, transport and food supply chains have erased borders and distances. Climate change has contributed to the spread of pathogens."

The report offers governments strategies on how to prevent future outbreaks, such as incentivizing sustainable land management, improving biodiversity and investing in scientific research.

Ms Andersen said that, "The science is clear that if we keep exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, then we can expect to see a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead".

"To prevent future outbreaks, we must become much more deliberate about protecting our natural environment."

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