There are two different types of infectious diseases caused by deforestation. The first type are vector-borne diseases. These diseases are carried by blood-feeding animals such as mosquitos or ticks. Because of deforestation, new areas get cleared. Destroying these areas causes the accumulation of water. This leaves more room for mosquitos to breed in huge amounts. Humans start living in the cleared areas, closer to a large number of Mosquitos and therefore the chances of getting stung by a disease-carrying Mosquito are really high.
The second type of infectious diseases caused by deforestation are zoonotic diseases, where a virus jumps from an animal directly to a human. By living in cleared areas, humans come closer to animals that they normally wouldn’t encounter. This is the way how Covid 19 infected humans. The virus wants to spread as much as possible, which is why they always search for new organisms. The virus can exploit the lack of defenses in the new organism, which is why people get sick when they catch a virus.
Zoonotic outbreaks have been increasing more and more in the last few years. The reason is deforestation. Not only do people come closer to animals that will spread new diseases, but they also destroy the habitat of many species, due to deforestation. Destroying the habitat of many species also means that the biodiversity in these areas is getting smaller. The result of a smaller biodiversity is more animals from one species, that possibly spread new diseases.
Clearing the forests means setting a fire. The resulting airborne particles are the leading cause of premature deaths in humans as a result of air pollution in the tropics. Forest fires increase lung problems among local people, and in the midst of the Covid 19 crisis, this risks overwhelming the already fragile health systems in these zones. This can also increase the risk of spreading the virus.
To protect the environment and to prevent more outbreaks such as Covid 19, it is important to protect rural and indigenous communities, which are the most exposed to the risks and the most vulnerable to infectious diseases, due to their limited access to health services. It is also important to make stopping deforestation a priority in tropical zones. Everyone can do something to stop deforestation such as buying specific certified wood products, going paperless whenever possible, limiting the consumption of products that use palm oil, and planting a tree when possible.
Melissa Mussa is a German volunteer in Praxis organisation, in charge of the World Forest Day campaign.