The United Nations expert group on biodiversity concludes, in a report published Thursday, that the Covid-19 pandemic will surely not be the last. And he warns that if humanity does not reduce its footprint on the animal world, future health crises are likely to be more virulent.
The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to be only the first in a long series. “Future pandemics will be more frequent, will spread faster, do more harm to the economy and kill more people” if we do nothing, warns a report by the UN group of experts on biodiversity (IPBES ), published Thursday, October 29.
In all, 22 scientists have been commissioned by this organization to review hundreds of studies on the links between humans and nature to better understand the health risk posed by the increasing encroachment of human activity on animal habitats. . Their conclusion is clear: this increasingly close coexistence between humans and wild animals amounts to opening a Pandora’s box of health.
Up to 850,000 viruses in animals capable of infecting humans
There are in fact 1.7 million unknown viruses in mammals and birds, and 540,000 to 850,000 of them “have the capacity to infect humans”, recall the authors of this report based on a study published in the journal Science in 2018.
And Covid-19, the most prominent of these zoonoses (infectious diseases transmitted to humans from an animal), is far from being the only example of a virus that has already made its way from the animal kingdom. towards the human body. Ebola virus, Sars 2002, HIV: in all, “nearly 70% of emerging diseases and almost all known pandemics are caused by microbes of animal origin”, stress the authors of the report.
No question of blaming pangolins, bats and other vectors of coronavirus on legs or wings, want to specify these experts appointed by IPBES. It is “the change in land use, the expansion and intensification of agriculture, and unsustainable trade, production and consumption” of humans that are singled out in this study.
This work “is a stinging reminder that our health, wealth and well-being depend on the health, wealth and well-being of our environment,” said Nick Ostle, a biodiversity specialist at Lancaster University. , in a contribution to the Science Media Center site.
A series of proposals to reduce risks
For these scientists, Covid-19 and the threat of even more virulent future pandemics are part of a bigger picture. “This report highlights the fact that the current pandemic is not an isolated phenomenon, but that it forms, along with the loss of biodiversity and global warming, a great and unique crisis. The most important to which humans have never faced “, summarizes John Spicer, professor of marine zoology at the University of Plymouth, also quoted by Science Media Center.
But if humans are the big culprits in the eyes of IPBES experts, the good news is that they can still fix their mistakes. The report thus makes a series of proposals to reduce the risk of multiplication of zoonoses.
Some of these measures seem rather simple to implement, such as the establishment of an International Council for the Prevention of Pandemics, responsible for “providing managers with the most relevant scientific information on emerging diseases”. The report also proposes to delimit “geographic areas at risk” that humans should not seek to exploit economically.
But others seem politically more sensitive: reinventing the agricultural model, encouraging consumption less, reducing international trade to limit the risk of spreading possible viruses … Or a profound change in our model of economic development.
The authors of the report recognize that this is no small challenge. But they also point out that the current logic – to cure rather than prevent pandemics – constitutes a very bad economic calculation. The bill for “pandemics and emerging diseases amounts to around $ 1 trillion per year, while the proposed prevention strategies would cost between $ 40 billion and $ 58 billion per year,” the study concludes.