Published:  12:05 AM, 05 June 2020 Last Update: 12:07 AM, 05 June 2020

Biodiversity and coronavirus

Biodiversity and coronavirus
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden from June 5-16 in 1972. The necessity for international action on environmental problems was brought to the world's attention first by scientists and then by inter-governmental meetings. The Stockholm Conference underlined the recognition of the environment as a holistic entity, the bio-sphere, to be protected in its entirety by international law and organizations.

This was a novel conception for governments. In addition, the attitude among developing countries has been changing as the international community has realized it is faced with a common threat, the degradation of the global environment. Later that year, on December 15, the General Assembly adopted a resolution designating June 5 as World Environment Day (WED) and urging Governments and the organizations in the entire United Nations system, to undertake every year world on that day -wide activities reaffirming their concern for the preservation of the environment, with a view to deepening environmental awareness as well as values and to pursuing the determination expressed at the Conference. Two years later, in 1974, the first WED was held with the theme "Only One Earth".

Since 1974, WED celebrations have been held annually and every year there is a new main focus.But the idea for rotating the center of these activities through selecting different host countries began in 1987.This year, the theme of WED is "Biodiversity".

The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity is commonly referred to as biodiversity. The number of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet, such as deserts, rainforests and coral reefs are all part of a biologically diverse Earth.Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies attempt to recognize this as being integral to any approach to preserving biodiversity.

Almost all cultures have their roots in our biological diversity in some way or form. Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity, where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play.For example, a larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops, greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms, and healthy ecosystems can better withstand and recover from a variety of disasters. And so, while we dominate this planet, we still need to preserve the diversity in wildlife.

A healthy biodiversity provides a number of natural services for everyone, such as ecosystem services which includes protection of water resources, soils formation and protection, nutrient storage and recycling, pollution breakdown and absorption, contribution to climate stability, maintenance of ecosystems, recovery from unpredictable events. Biological resources, such as, food, medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs, wood products, ornamental plants, breeding stocks, population reservoirs,future resources, diversity in genes, species and ecosystems.

In addition, social benefits, such as, research, education and monitoring,recreation and tourism, cultural values. Therefore, biodiversity underpins a wide range of ecosystem services that human societies are dependent on for their very survival and development, however, declining biodiversity on the other hand is concern for many reasons.

This is not exactly new thatresearchers have long known that infectious diseasestypically arise at the nexus between nature and agribusiness, mining and other human activity. For example, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was the result of deforestation, leading to closer contact between humans and wildlife. The Avian flu was linked to intensive poultry farming and the Nipah virus resulted from the intensification of pig farming in Malaysia. Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) caused by the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Transmitted from an animal reservoir in camels, MERS was identified in September 2012 and continues to cause sporadic and localized outbreaks.

Sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), West Nile virus, Zika virus disease - and now, COVID-19, which emerged from China in December 2019 and was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. All these trace back to the interaction of humans and critters. It was estimated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that three-fourths of "new or emerging" diseases that infect humans originate in nonhuman animals. They are known as zoonotic diseases or zoonoses (from the Greek: "zoo-" for animal and "-osis" for disease).

Lately, it is projected that, globally, about 1 billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year from diseases caused by coronaviruses. Moreover, about 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, meaning that they are transmitted to people by animals.The emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the fact that when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life. The more biodiverse an ecosystem is, the more difficult it is for one pathogen to spread rapidly or dominate; whereas, biodiversity loss provides opportunity for pathogens to pass between animals and people.

Human actions, including deforestation, encroachment on wildlife habitats, intensified agriculture, and acceleration of climate change, have upset the delicate balance of nature. We have changed the system that would naturally protect us, and have created conditions that allow particular pathogens-including coronaviruses-to spread. The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently noted that the world has lost about 60 percent of all wildlife in the last 50 years while the number of new infectious diseases has quadrupled in the last 60 years.And then there is climate change, altering and accelerating the transmission patterns of infectious diseases. Already, the roughly 1 degree Celsius rise in mean global temperatures is altering the abundance, genetic composition, behavior and survival of some species. The decline of species threatens the ecosystem services nature provides that, among other things, help to regulate the climate.

Up to a million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction, along with 40 percent of insects, according to a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Biodiversity loss and climate change exacerbate each other. The loss of species and habitats contributes to climate disruption, which in turn can accelerate biodiversity loss - both of which can contribute to the rise of pandemics.

Therefore, we must act differently, faster and more decisively before it is too late and species are lost forever. It is time to build back better for People and Planet. Yet, these are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message: To care for ourselves, we must care for nature.

The writer is an Associate Professor and Chairman, Department of Environmental Science, Bangladesh University
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