Protecting tropical forests is essential to prevent the emergence of new diseases – and this is much cheaper than dealing with public health crises.
An article published last week in the journal Science links the devastation of tropical forests to the emergence of new pandemics, such as the Covid-19. The article is the result of a study conducted by 18 researchers from different North American institutions.
In the article, the scientists show that preventing the emergence of new diseases by preserving the environment is up to 500 cheaper than dealing with the impacts of a pandemic.
Several diseases dangerous to humans and with pandemic potential can arise from contact with other species. In the case of Sars-CoV-2, for example, the researchers believe that the microorganism comes from a type of coronavirus known to infect bats.
The researchers explain that the destruction of the natural habitat of other species, such as tropical forests, increases the chances of contact between humans and animals, as it forces wild animals out of their homes and toward human populations. This contact, in turn, leads to a higher chance of a harmful virus “jumping” from one species to another.
In the new study, the researchers recommend expanding the monitoring of natural habitats and enhancing protection programs and control of the wildlife trade. In many regions of China, for example, the consumption of wild species is a common cultural practice and symbolizes high social status.
The article indicates that the preservation of tropical forests through various monitoring and restoration programs would cost, globally, between US$ 22.2 and US$ 30.7 billion each year. The amount is 500 times less than the Covid-19 pandemic will cost the global economy: between US$ 8.1 and US$ 15.8 trillion.
“The pandemic gives an incentive to do something addressing concerns that are immediate and threatening to individuals, and that’s what moves people,” said Les Kaufman, co-author of the article and professor of biology at Boston University. “Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes.”