A United Nations’ biodiversity panel on Thursday warned that pandemics in future will be deadlier and frequent if humans do not change the way they treat nature.
The panel said pandemic like COVID-19 will happen more often, kill more people and create even more damage to the global economy unless there is a fundamental shift in treating nature with respect.
The panel known as IPBES warned that there are up to 850,000 viruses which, like the novel coronavirus, exist in animals and may infect people. It said pandemics represented an “existential threat” to humanity.
“There is no great mystery about the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic – or any modern pandemic,” said Peter Daszak, president of the Ecohealth Alliance and chair of the IPBES workshop that drafted the report.
The panel said that COVID-19 was the sixth pandemic since the influenza outbreak of 1918 and all of which had been “entirely driven by human activities”.
“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk though their impacts on our agriculture,” he added.
Authors of the special report on biodiversity and pandemics said that destruction of natural habitat and insatiable consumption has made animal-borne diseases more likely to make the jump to people in future.
These include unsustainable exploitation of the environment through deforestation, agricultural expansion, wildlife trade and consumption — all of which put humans in increasingly close contact with wild and farmed animals and the diseases they harbour.
Atleast 70% of the emerging diseases like Ebola, Zika and HIV/AIDS, are zoonotic – meaning they circulate in animals before jumping to humans.
Around five new diseases break out among humans every single year, any one of which has the potential to become a pandemic, the panel warned.