Story at a glance
- The report attributes the increasing risk of zoonotic diseases to climate change and an increased demand for meat.
- The report says countries will need to work to protect wildlife and preserve the environment to curb the spread of such diseases.
- According to the report, endemic zoonotic diseases associated with livestock cause more than 2 million deaths a year, mostly in low- and middle-income countries.
As the battle against the coronavirus continues worldwide, the United Nations (UN) is warning that more diseases that spread from animals to humans are likely to emerge due to the degradation of the natural environment.
The UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) report released Monday identifies several human-mediated factors driving the increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, which include a growing demand for animal protein, unsustainable farming practices and the global climate crisis. The report says countries will need to work to protect wildlife and preserve the environment to curb the spread of such diseases.
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“We have intensified agriculture, expanded infrastructure and extracted resources at the expense of our wild spaces,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said.
“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,” Andersen said.
Zoonotic diseases include diseases such as Ebola, MERS, HIV/AIDS and West Nile virus.
According to the report, endemic zoonotic diseases associated with livestock cause more than 2 million deaths a year, mostly in low and middle-income countries.
The report outlines strategies governments can take to help prevent future outbreaks, including expanded research into zoonotic diseases, improved monitoring and regulation of food systems and incentivizing sustainable land management practices.
UNEP and ILRI are also urging governments to adopt an approach called “One Health,” which involves bringing together public health, veterinary and environmental expertise to prevent and respond to zoonotic disease outbreaks.
“To prevent future outbreaks, countries need to conserve wild habitats, promote sustainable agriculture, strengthen food safety standards, monitor and regulate food markets, invest in technology to identify risks, and curb the illegal trade in wildlife,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in statement.
The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 11.6 million people worldwide and left more than 539,000 dead, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The U.S. leads the world in infections and deaths, with more than 2.9 million confirmed cases and more than 130,000 deaths.
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