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Ecosystem degradation could raise risk of pandemics - University of Exeter

Environmental destruction may make pandemics more likely and less manageable, new research suggests.

The study, by the University of the West of England and the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter, presents the hypothesis that disease risks are “ultimately interlinked” with biodiversity and natural processes such as the water cycle.

Using a framework designed to analyse and communicate complex relationships between society and the environment, the study concludes that maintaining intact and fully functioning ecosystems and their associated environmental and health benefits is key to preventing the emergence of new pandemics.

The loss of these benefits through ecosystem degradation – including deforestation, land use change and agricultural intensification – further compounds the problem by undermining water and other resources essential for reducing disease transmission and mitigating the impact of emerging infectious diseases.

Lead author Dr Mark Everard, of the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), said: ”Ecosystems naturally restrain the transfer of diseases from animals to humans, but this service declines as ecosystems become degraded. At the same time, ecosystem degradation undermines water security, limiting availability of adequate water for good hand hygiene, sanitation and disease treatment. Disease risk cannot be dissociated from ecosystem conservation and natural resource security.”

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