• In a new report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem (IPBES), the authors have warned that future pandemics will emerge more often, they’ll spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world and kill more people than COVID-19, unless significant measures are taken.
  • The IPBES was established by the United Nations, but functions independently.

Pandemics in the last century :

  • The report notes that COVID-19 is at least the sixth pandemic to have taken place in the last century since the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Three of the pandemics were caused by influenza viruses, one by HIV followed by SARS and COVID-19. While the current pandemic’s origins lie in microbes carried by animals, “like all pandemics, its emergence has been entirely driven by human activities,” the report says.
  • There are over 1.7 million currently ‘undiscovered’ viruses that exist in mammals and birds, out of which up to 827,000 could have the ability to infect people. The report goes on to say that more than 70 per cent of emerging diseases, such as Ebola, Zika and Nipah, are caused by microbes found in animals that spill over due to contact among wildlife, livestock and people.
  • About 30 per cent of emerging infectious diseases are attributed to land use change, agricultural expansion and urbanisation.
  • Further, almost 100 per cent of the pandemics so far, which includes influenza, SARS and COVID-19, have been zoonoses (diseases caused by germs that spread between animals and people).
  • The estimated value of the legal international wildlife trade in 2019 was about $107 billion, a 500 per cent increase since 2005 and a 2000 per cent increase since the 1980s.
  • The estimated cost of the COVID-19 pandemic is somewhere between $8-$16 trillion, while the economic impact of the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa amounted to $53 billion.

How can pandemic risk be reduced?

  • The report suggests that pandemic risk can be lowered by reducing the human activities that drive loss of biodiversity, by greater conservation of protected areas and through measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions. This, the report says, will help in reducing the contact between wildlife-livestock and humans, thereby helping prevent the spill-over of new diseases.
  • Further, the authors suggest a number of policy options that can help reduce the pandemic risk, which includes launching a high-level intergovernmental council on pandemic prevention, countries setting mutually-agreed goals or targets regarding the environment, animals and people, and reducing zoonotic disease risk in the international wildlife trade by forming intergovernmental ‘health and trade’ partnership.