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Archaic of War on Nature

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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COVID-19 has had devastating consequences for the entire World at large. Spreading around the World at the speed of light, by 10th December 2020, COVID-19 hasinfected 69,465,210 people and killed almost 1,579,806. Although the virus’s origins are still murky, it’s highly likely that it jumped from species to species, until it hit ours. However, it is only the latest in a long line of human diseases that have originated in animals. Other such devastating diseases- SARS, HIV, Ebola and Avian flu to name but a few- have caused much harm to human civilization throughout history. Trading diseases with wildlife isn’t new. In the middle Ages, the bubonic Plague-caused by bacterium –originated in city rats and was typically transferred to humans via a bite by an infected flea. The 1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish Flu) has been traced back to birds and killed an estimated 50 million people about one-third of the Planet’s population. In 2009, the less fatal Swine flu was sourced to pigs raised for food in North America and HIV/AIDS started as a virus in Old World monkey in Africa. Recently, the frequency of disease outbreaks has been increasing steadily. Between 1980 and 2013, there were 12012 recorded outbreaks, comprising 44 million individual cases and affecting every country in the world. While many bacterial fungal and parasitic diseases that humans get from animals are hard to transmit between people viruses mutate far faster and are more easily passed on to others. In the fall of 2014, the deadly Ebola virus jumped from an unknown animal to a two year old boy in Guinea. It quickly spread to those around him and began terrorizing West African nations; by 2016 more than 11,000 people had died. Researchers now believe that fruit bats were the origin of this zoonotic disease- which refers to any disease that makes the jump from animal to humans or vice-versa. Today 75% of all new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic.
So, how do we prevent future viruses’ outbreaks? It’s clear, “PROTECT NATURE”: its wildlife and natural habitats. Sadly, biodiversity (from Ecosystem to genes to species) is declining faster than at any other time in human history. Natural Ecosystem functions similarly to the human body; when they are robust with diverse species and healthy with space for animal populations, they are more resistant to diseases. Thriving ecosystems also provide a variety of benefits to surrounding human communities, from fertile soil to food to fresh water. However when human activities, such as logging and mining, disrupt and degrade these ecosystems, animals are forced closer together. They are then more likely to become stressed or sick and be in closer proximity to human settlement. In diverse ecosystem well separated from human habitations, viruses ebb and flow without ever having a chance to make leaps between species. But as deforestation drives wild animals out of their natural habitats and closer to human populations, that protection begins to break down. In these conditions, diseases bounce back and forth between wildlife populations and us. Disrupted ecosystem tends to lose their biggest predators first: and what they leave behind are smaller animals that live fast reproduce in large numbers and have immune systems more capable of carrying diseases without succumbing to it when they are only a few species left, they get really good at carrying diseases . And when these populations prosper near people, there may be nothing between a deadly pathogen and all of humanity.
Researchers have been warning for decades that animals-borne illnesses are going to become morefrequent due to the rapid destruction of nature. In fact almost half of the new diseases that jumped from animals to human after 1940 can be traced to agriculture, changes in land use or wildlife hunting. Ebola, Lyme, MERS, SARS, West Nile and others are all fix the profile. There may be 10,000 mammalian viruses potentially dangerous to people. Not only is animal biodiversity desirable but plants diversity as well. For instance, the rare Madagascar rose Periwinkle, Catharanthusroseus, contains compounds useful as medicine for childhood leukemia. An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 plants species are harvested for traditional or modern medicine while around 50% of modern drugs have been developed from natural products that are threatened by biodiversity loss, wildlife too; need to be protected if we want to safeguard ourselves. Removing a species through culling can also have health consequences for us. When you eliminate some but not all of the animals, you increase the level of a virus within a population because those individual are still circulating it. This is known as dilution effect, which hypothesize that a higher rate of species richness created a buffer against zoonotic pathogens. Culling isn’t the only dangerous practice we humans have perpetrated on wildlife. Wild market and the illegal wildlife trade pose some of the clearest threat to animals and human health. Taking disparate animals out of their various native environments and penning them together puts them in contact with other species-and other diseases- that they likely would have never encountered naturally in the wild. Wild animals markets that sell a variety of exotic species in one place are the perfect breeding ground for rare zoonotic diseases. This exchange of wildlife and wildlife parts is also devastating to nature because it decimates species populations such as elephants and rhinos, which are critical to the health of their respective ecosystem. Wildlife biodiversity can restrain pathogens before they ever leave the wild. But under current conditions more than one million species are at risk of extinction due to human activities.
What’s more, human- caused climate change plays a part in exacerbating pandemics. Along with natural habitat and wildlife loss, shifting climate zones increases our vulnerability to a range of health threats. As the world warms, wild life is forced to migrate to new places, where they interact with other species they haven’t previously encountered, increase the risk of new diseases emerging. We know that in the late 1990s, in Malaysia, the outbreak of Nipah Virus was a result of forest fires and draught which had caused fruit bats, the natural carriers of the virus, to move from forest to pig farms. Infected pigs then infected farmers, who infected others, spreading the diseases. Climate change has caused humans displacement which alters and accelerates the transmission patterns of infectious diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and Zica virus. Movement of large groups of people to new locations, often under poor conditions, increases their vulnerability to such biological threats. Climate change is also responsible for massive fires across the planet. Earlier this year, more than half of the Australian population was exposed to health harm for weeks when life threatening bush –fires created a blanket of smoke pollution. More than 400 people died as a result. Air pollution particles act as transport for pathogens, contributing to the spread of infectious diseases and viruses across large distances. It’s not like we didn’t know that a diseases like COVID-19 was coming. In 2018 disease ecologist Dr. Peter Daszak, a contributor to the World Health Organization Register of Priority Diseases coined the term Disease X. This described a then –unknown pathogens predicted to originate in animals and cause a serious international epidemic. COVID-19 is that DiseaseX.we have been lucky. The past 20 years of disease outbreak could be viewed as a series of near-miss catastrophes. But we’ve also been unfortunate because that may have led to complacency rather than the increased vigilance that’s necessary to control outbreaks perhaps the seriousness of our current situation will make us finally understand that the biodiversity crisis ,the climate change crisis and the COVID-19 crisis are deeply connected. The state of environment affects the transmission of infectious diseases and that means we must adopt a holistic view of public health that includes the health of the natural environment. We need to re-imagine our relationship with nature. For a long time nature was resilient and robust, so we assumed we could do anything we wanted to it and it would bounce back. Due to population growth and overexploitation, however, we’ve reached a point where what we do to nature now permanently impact it. There is a consistent pattern; when biodiversity decreases and wild spaces vanish, pathogens rage putting humans, other animals –both wild and domestic- and plants. The collision course with nature that we’re on has to stop for as pioneering 20th century conservationist RACHEL CARSON argued, a war against nature is inevitably a war on ourselves.

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