The UAE has ideas to save the world from the next pandemic

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), between 2015 and 2020, the rate of global deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Tue 5 Jul 2022, 10:32 PM

The rapid spread and rise of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19 and monkeypox should ring global alarm bells about the state of the environment and the extent to which humans are destroying or encroaching into animal habitats in their quest for development and economic growth.

Deforestation should concern people and industry, and unless forests and fauna are preserved, we face not just an environmental but also a viral catastrophe where new pathogens cause havoc on human populations. People and wild beasts in close proximity have opened new pathways for new pathogens that are constantly changing form and virality to cause much damage to lives and the larger economy as witnessed by Covid lockdowns and the millions of lives lost.

At last count, the coronavirus causing Covid-19 has claimed 6.36 million innocent lives while infecting 555 million around the world. Some diseases that were lying dormant for many decades, like monkeypox, have reappeared and cases are being reported across the world. Let’s set the record straight here: People have wandered or have wantonly destroyed natural animal terrain for the development of their own.

In doing so, they may have invoked the wrath of other living beings they share the world with. So are these zoonotic diseases a form of revenge of the apes and bats? Scientists believe this may be the case though it hasn’t been conclusively proven in the case of Covid that first emerged in a wet market in Wuhan, China two years ago.

But a recent UAE study by Sharjah’s Beeah Environmental Services, published by Elsevier in its journal Hygiene and Environmental Health Advances, confirms that it’s environmental degradation that’s causing the rise and spread of dangerous pathogens.

Over 700,000 viruses derived from high-risk viral families were observed since the 1980s. Through improved environmental management, the study found, the risk of infectious zoonotic disease outbreaks could be mitigated and ultimately prevent the occurrence of outbreaks similar to Covid-19.

Experts, meanwhile, are warning more pandemics are on their way. One way to mitigate risks is to prevent deforestation for agricultural and industrial purposes. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), between 2015 and 2020, the rate of global deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year. “The area of primary forest worldwide has decreased by over 80 million hectares since 1990,” says the FAO.

There’s clearly more to be done to prevent the next health crisis, which could mean leaving wild animals where they deserve to be — in their natural surroundings. “Large-scale commercial agriculture (primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soya bean and oil palm) accounted for 40 per cent of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and local subsistence agriculture for another 33 per cent.” This UAE study is a reminder that global health is linked to green cover. It’s never too late to prevent the next crisis.

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