Statement: Deforestation Drives Disease Spread; Preventing It Must Be Part Of Long-Term COVID-19 Recovery Plans

May 5, 2020

Arlington, Va. (May 5, 2020) – Citing recent reports of spikes in deforestation, which drives disease spread, Conservation International CEO Dr. M. Sanjayan said that protecting nature must remain a priority for the benefit of humanity, in a statement released by Conservation International today:

“As the COVID-19 recovery response continues, it is essential that the global community does not overlook one of the leading causes of disease spread from wildlife to people – deforestation. Land-use change is scientifically recognized as the number-one driver of emerging disease from wildlife and it is continuing to happen — and in some places, accelerating — at an alarming rate in tropical areas around the world.

“We know the current pandemic is the result of zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from wildlife to people likely through contact with an animal taken from its natural habitat. While we may never know the exact path of transmission, we do know that if we continue to destroy nature by degrading natural habitats, the likelihood of a future pandemic will increase.

“In recent decades wildlife populations have faced catastrophic decline, and over the same time period, infectious diseases have quadrupled. These two things are linked. When we tear down trees, it does not eliminate the presence of viruses in nature, in fact it increases the likelihood of viruses jumping to people and encourages spread.

“When forests are degraded it brings people into contact with animals, it drives movement of species outside of their natural home and it disrupts a fragile balance.

“As we enter an unsteady economic future, it is more important than ever that we invest in prevention strategies that will have an impact. Natural climate solutions – the protection, restoration, and improved management of land, oceans, and forests – have the potential to protect us from not only future disease spread but also the looming crisis of climate change.

“And, when implemented responsibly, strategic investments in nature also create sustainable and resilient jobs that are better positioned to withstand economic downturn. Investments in the restoration of carbon-rich habitats and climate-friendly agriculture has been identified by leading economists as one of five key recovery strategies the world needs to restart economies and address climate change.

“We would be remiss not to learn from this situation. The current global crisis is a sobering reminder that our balance with nature is fragile. Nature does not need people, but people need nature.  Our survival and livelihoods depend on the health of the planet. The mission to end deforestation has rarely felt so immediate and urgent. It is essential we come together to stop this driver of disease, climate-warming emissions and the destruction of our planet’s wildlife.”

About Conservation International

Conservation International works to protect the critical benefits that nature provides to people. Through science, partnerships and fieldwork, Conservation International is driving innovation and investments in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting protections for critical habitats, and fostering economic development that is grounded in the conservation of nature.  We work in 30 countries around the world, empowering societies at all levels to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet. Follow Conservation International's work on Conservation News, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.