United Nations experts are attempting to shed light on the evident link between damage to the environment and the potential for pandemics and epidemics. Diseases like COVID-19 that get passed around from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases, and, with current environmental trends, we could see a steady increase in such diseases in the not-so-distant future, according to the Executive Director of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme).
Increased activity of the agricultural and other animal-based industries have led to around 60% of known infectious diseases and 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans to be identified as zoonotic. Such diseases have caused economic losses of over $100 billion in the past 20 years, even excluding the cost of dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (expected to eventually find a place in the trillions).
According to UNEP, countries and international organizations must invest in public health, sustainable agriculture and climate change research to prevent the advent of more pandemics like the current one which has forced the world to come to a standstill. The UNEP points to proactive practices in African nations that have already dealt with a host of zoonotic outbreaks (Ebola is one of the deadliest), such as the ‘One Health’ approach, which seeks to unite public health, veterinary and environmental expertise to identify and treat outbreaks in animal populations before a zoonotic transmission can take place.
The fact of the matter is, this ‘once in a century’ pandemic might end up happening again in this century, or even this decade. Environmental degradation shows no signs of stopping, while many people around the world are content to sit in their ivory towers and think themselves ‘safe’. For better or for worse, the human race has nowhere to call home but this planet, and unless there is an intellectual movement amongst the masses to recognize and demonstrate a will to fight against climate change, we might lose the one home we have.