WWF: We could miss out on our chance to help prevent the next pandemic

Tree in forest, photo by veeterzy on Unsplash
Tree in forest, photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

More than 43 million hectares of forest, an area bigger than Germany, has been destroyed between 2004 and 2017, conservation organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said Wednesday.

“Deforestation is at the root of the most pressing problems currently threatening our planet,” Kerry Cesareo, senior vice president forests at WWF, said in an online statement.

“It is one of the biggest underlying risk factors for outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases, and a primary reason wildfires are more frequent,” Cesareo continued. “It’s also the leading cause of the decline in wildlife populations.”

Whole areas of forest continue to be flattened each year, mainly for industrial-scale agriculture. Biodiversity-rich areas are cleared to create space for animal farming and crops.

Forests are an enormous carbon sink. Together with other plants and soil, they suck up roughly a third of all the carbon pollution humans produce annually. Yet, they continue to disappear rapidly, threatening irreparable losses to Earth’s crucial biodiversity.

“We must address over-consumption and put greater value on health and nature rather than the current overwhelming emphasis on economic growth and financial profits at all cost,” said Fran Raymond Price, Forest Practice lead at WWF International.

“This is in humanity’s best interests: the risk of new diseases emerging is higher in tropical forest regions that are experiencing land-use change.” Price warned that if deforestation was not rapidly curbed, “we could miss out on our chance to help prevent the next pandemic”.

The WWF report urged citizens to do their bit by avoiding products linked to deforestation such as some meat, soy and palm oil products.

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