A deforested area inside the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil.(Reuters File)
A deforested area inside the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil.(Reuters File)

Next coronavirus hotspot and pandemic origin could be Amazon Rainforest, warns scientist

With the Amazon rainforests disappearing so rapidly, an “ecological disequilibrium is created and that’s when a virus can jump” from animals to humans, according to ecologist David Lapola.
New Delhi | By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Anubha Rohatgi
UPDATED ON MAY 16, 2020 03:13 PM IST

Even as the world continues to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic with countries ramping up efforts to develop a vaccine or drug to treat the Covid-19 disease, a scientist has already raised the red flag about the next pandemic and where it could originate.

According to Brazilian ecologist David Lapola, the next pandemic could come from the Amazon rainforest because of “rampant deforestation” there which has led to human encroachment on animal habitats.

With human beings urbanising the once-wild areas and thus, driving out animals from their natural habitats, the incidence of zoonotic diseases- those passed from animals to humans - is increasing.

That includes the novel coronavirus, which, scientists believe originated in bats before passing to humans via a third species in China’s Wuhan where the first cases Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, were detected in January this year. According to Peter Ben Embarek, a World Health Organisation expert in zoonotic diseases, the novel coronavirus comes from a group of viruses that originate or spread in bats, though it’s still unclear what animal may have transmitted the disease to humans.

Lapola told news agency AFP that the same processes are in play in the Amazon.

“The Amazon is a huge reservoir of viruses,” said Lapola who studies how human activity will shape the future ecosystems of tropical forests, adding, “We’d better not try our luck.”

And the alarming news is that the world’s biggest rainforest is disappearing very quickly.

Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon from January to April this year wiped out 1,202 sq km while last year, it surged 85%, to more than 10,000 square kilometers (3,900 square miles), reports AFP, quoting data based on satellite images from Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE).

With the rainforests disappearing so rapidly, an “ecological disequilibrium is created and that’s when a virus can jump” from animals to humans, Lapola told AFP.

He further warned that the Amazon’s biodiversity could make the region “the world’s biggest coronavirus pool”, referring to coronaviruses in general, and not the one behind the current pandemic.

But the Amazon’s immense biodiversity could make the region “the world’s biggest coronavirus pool”, he said - referring to coronaviruses in general, not the one behind the current pandemic.

So, if the process of deforestation continues unabatedly and human beings give precedence to their need for urbanisation over maintaining the ecological balance, the world could face more outbreaks.

“We need to reinvent the relationship between our society and the rainforest,” Lapola told AFP in an interview.

Otherwise, the world faces more outbreaks - “a very complex process that is difficult to predict”, he said.

The coronavirus has infected more than 4.5 million people globally and over 300.000 have died from the disease so far.

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