World Environment Day 2021: Climate change can aggravate deadly disease outbreaks

World Environment Day 2021: Climate change can aggravate deadly disease outbreaks
Climate change will facilitate spread of diseases by making new areas into suitable homes for disease-carrying species, say experts.

Environmental destruction and the subsequent climate change could increase the spread of deadly human diseases via animals, warn experts. World Environment Day is approaching, let's take a pledge to conserve biodiversity.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : June 5, 2021 7:54 PM IST

Environmental degradation is posing serious threat to our health. The origins of new pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 are believed to be the results of environmental degradation. As part of the World Environment Day celebration, we will be bringing out a series of articles highlighting the potential effects of climate change on human health. World Environment Day is the United Nations' flagship campaign for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Since 1974, World Environment Day has been celebrated every year on 5 June around the world. It encourages governments, businesses, celebrities and citizens to focus their efforts on a pressing environmental issue. The theme for this year's World Environment Day is "Biodiversity". This year Colombia will host World Environment Day 2020 in partnership with Germany. Biodiversity is the foundation that supports life both on land and below water. Changing, or removing one element of this web can affect the entire life system and lead to negative consequences. Human activities like deforestation, encroachment on wildlife habitats, intensified agriculture, are the main cause of climate change and biodiversity loss. If this continues, it will have severe implications for humanity, such as collapse of food and health systems.

Climate change can increase deadly disease outbreaks

Researchers have warned that environmental destruction and the subsequent climate change could lead to a greater spread of deadly human diseases via animals and other organisms. The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the consequences of environmental degradation. The 2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa claimed more than 11,000 lives. But researchers fear that climate change could cause an increase in Ebola rates over the next 50 years. UK and US researchers created a predictive model that suggested that the area that could be affected by Ebola will increase by nearly 15 per cent in the future. They predicted that the Ebola outbreak will spread to new parts of western and central Africa. Climate change will facilitate spread of diseases by making new areas into suitable homes for disease-carrying species. Fruit bats are believed to be a reservoir for the Ebola virus. So, if the trees that support life of fruit bats can grow in a new area, the bats will follow and carry the disease there.

Deforestation driving up the spread of malaria

Clearance of the Amazon rainforest has been linked to increasing cases of malaria. According to a study by researchers at the Stanford University in California, a 10 per cent increase in deforestation was found to be associated with a 3.27 per cent increase in malaria cases. This is almost 10,000 additional cases every year. The researchers explained that as more people are settling closer to mosquito-infested areas, their chances of getting malaria also increases. Logging also create more mosquito-friendly habitats.

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COVID-19 outbreak linked to environmental degradation

It is widely believed that COVID-19 virus originated from wild pangolins sold in a wet market in Wuhan, China. If this is true, then SARS-CoV-2 is another disease outbreak resulting from close contact between wild species and humans. SARS (2003), the swine flu (2009) and MERS (2012) also shared the same cause. The exploitation of natural resources to respond to the growing human population's increasing demands is increasing interactions between wild species and humans. This allows viruses to cross between species resulting in rapid spread of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19. Zoonotic diseases, also known as zoonoses, are illnesses caused by germs that spread between animals and people. According to experts, there is higher risk of emergence of new diseases when humans and wildlife interact in areas with rich wildlife biodiversity, such as tropical forests.