Pena: Biodiversity and Covid-19

AS DEFINED by Encyclopedia Brittanica, biodiversity, also called biological diversity, is the variety of life found in a place on Earth or, often, the total variety of life on Earth. A common measure of this variety, called species richness, is the count of species in an area. The Philippines is rich in biodiversity. It is one of the 17 mega biodiverse countries, hosting more than 52,177 described species of which more than half is found nowhere else in the world.

The year 2020 is supposed to be the super year of nature and biodiversity. However, the world is focused on the Covid-19 pandemic and the attention to biodiversity was sidelined. But now, some experts are saying that there is a connection between the two.

The coronavirus (Covid-19) is a zoonotic disease. Zoonotic diseases are transmitted between animals and humans. There are other zoonotic disease outbreaks like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or Sars (2002), Avian Influenza or bird flu (2004), H1N1 or Swine Flu (2009), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or Mers (2012), Ebola (2014– 2015), Zika virus (2015–2016) and the West Nile virus (2019).

How did the leap from animals to humans came about? Explained simply, human activities like deforestation, land-use change, uncontrolled urbanization and illegal trade of species exposed us to the virus carriers. We removed the barriers that separate us from animals, insects and other vectors.

We have dramatically altered the land around us. We have cleared forests and other natural areas to create spaces for urban areas and settlements, agriculture and industries. In doing so, we have reduced overall space for wildlife and degraded natural buffers between humans and animals.

According to the World Health Organization, human activities have disturbed both the structure and functions of ecosystems and altering native biodiversity. Such disturbances reduce the abundance of some organisms, cause population growth in others, modify the interactions among organisms, and alter the interactions between organisms and their physical and chemical environments. Patterns of infectious diseases are sensitive to these disturbances.

The United Nations environmental body, UNEP, said that without animal-to-human transmission, the current Sars-CoV-2 virus would not have presented itself in the form of Covid-19. Coronaviruses are leaping to humans more frequently because we are providing them with more opportunities to do so. In the last 50 years alone, the human population has doubled and the global economy has almost quadrupled.

The Covid-19 is a reminder that human health and environmental health are closely linked.


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