DEAR EDITOR – Last week I wrote briefly telling the story of the Barana Nature and Heritage Park which had been established with support from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) through its Pacific Ecosystem-based Adaptation to Climate Change (PEBACC) project.
I should have mentioned the Wagina community project which had also been established through SPREP to create an ecosystem based on adaptation to climate change.
In the past, I have also written about a number of community-based initiatives across the country to replant forests and coastal mangroves to help stave off the impact of climate change and promote biodiversity.
In this letter, today, I would like to mention biodiversity and the importance of the environment in the hope more tribal communities in the Solomon Islands will set aside areas of land to create biodiversity pockets to help in moderating the influence of climate change but also, and this may not have been fully understood, there is a known link to the loss of habitat to diseases, including it has been suggested in recent reports released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to coronavirus.
Let me quote what I myself learned today from a UNEP report.
“Did you know that around 60 percent of all infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, as are 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases, in other words, they come to us via animals?
“Zoonoses that emerged or re-emerged recently are Ebola, bird flu, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), the Nipah virus, Rift Valley fever, sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), West Nile virus, Zika virus disease, and, now, the coronavirus. They are all linked to human activity.
“The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was the result of forest losses leading to closer contacts between wildlife and human settlements; the emergence of avian influenza was linked to intensive poultry farming; and the Nipah virus was linked to the intensification of pig farming and fruit production in Malaysia.
“Scientists and specialists working at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have been pulling together the latest scientific facts about the coronavirus—what we know about the virus and what we don’t know.
“While the origin of the outbreak and its transmission pathway are yet to be discovered, here are six important points worth knowing:
“The interaction of humans or livestock with wildlife exposes them to the risk of spillover of potential pathogens. For many zoonoses, livestock serve as an epidemiological bridge between wildlife and human infections.
“The drivers of zoonotic disease emergence are changes in the environment—usually the result of human activities, ranging from land use change to changing climate; changes in animals or human hosts; and changes in pathogens, which always evolve to exploit new hosts.
“For example, bat-associated viruses emerged due to the loss of bat habitat from deforestation and agricultural expansion. Bats play important roles in ecosystems by being night pollinators and eating insects.
“Human-induced environmental changes modify wildlife population structure and reduce biodiversity, resulting in new environmental conditions that favour particular hosts, vectors, and/or pathogens.
“Ecosystem integrity can help regulate diseases by supporting a diversity of species so that it is more difficult for one pathogen to spill over, amplify or dominate.
“It is impossible to predict where the next outbreak will come from or when it will be. Growing evidence suggests that outbreaks or epidemic diseases may become more frequent as climate continues to change.
“Never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people, says UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
“Our continued erosion of wild spaces has brought us uncomfortably close to animals and plants that harbour diseases that can jump to humans.”