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How environmental damage can lead to new diseases - The Economist

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Deforestation and intensive farming are linked to outbreaks of zoonotic pathogens

THE WORLD’S monitored populations of wild animals have decreased by an average of 68% in the past 50 years, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Deforestation, intensive farming and the changing use of land are largely to blame. But nature can recover, provided it is given a chance. COP15, a UN biodiversity summit that took place last week, sought to do just that. More than 100 countries recognised the need to reverse species decline by 2030 and acknowledged the consequences of harmful environmental practices and climate change for biodiversity. These efforts are long overdue—and not just for the sake of wildlife. The same actions that threaten ecosystems endanger human health too.

Growing evidence points to a connection between destructive environmental practices and emerging diseases. Exactly how one leads to the other is not yet fully understood, as the struggle to establish the origin of covid-19 shows (the virus may have leaked from a lab, or “spilled over” from bats into humans, via an intermediary species). Why are changes in ecosystems linked to the spread of disease, and what increases the risk of outbreaks?