The coronavirus pandemic might be followed by even deadlier viral outbreaks if humans do not stop destroying the world's natural habitats, according to researchers at Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
"There is a single species responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic – us," the researchers wrote on the IPBES website. "Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones."
The IPBES was designed to strengthen the connection between the science community and policymakers to help conserve biodiversity and ecosystems around the world.
Last year, the organization published what was called the "most planetary health check," which reported human survival was at risk due to the deterioration of the planet's life-support systems.
In this latest paper, the researchers said human activities, such as widespread deforestation, unwieldy agriculture expansion, uncontrolled mining, farming and infrastructure growth, along with wildlife exploitation, have contributed to a "perfect storm for spillover diseases."
"Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today," they wrote.
The researchers said 70% of emerging diseases come from this mix between humans and animals, which then get spread across the globe through air traffic and urbanization.
They also stressed the need to properly fund health services and surveillance programs in countries that are most susceptible to pandemic risk.
"The programs we're talking about will cost tens of billions of dollars a year," the researchers wrote. "But if you get one pandemic, even just one a century, that costs trillions, so you still come out with an incredibly good return on investment."
They added: "Business as usual will not work. Business as usual right now for pandemics is waiting for them to emerge and hoping for a vaccine. That's not a good strategy. We need to deal with the underlying drivers."
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