How Deforestation is Linked to Ebola
A little known fact about the current Ebola scare
Throughout my childhood, as early as kindergarten, I remember being fascinated with our rainforests. Living sanctuaries populated by towering trees, exotic monkeys, and secret species yet to be discovered; a trove of imaginative inspiration for my young mind to explore.
Sadly, I was also taught that they were being decimated.
The 1990s witnessed some of the highest and most devastating deforestation rates in history, about 16 million hectares being razed each year. That’s the size of Michigan. The entire state. Every year. Insanity.
Aside from the devastating toll this takes on the atmosphere (deforestation is ahead of all cars and trucks in carbon emissions), as well as the hundreds of species that go extinct each day (about 1,000 times the natural background rate), there is a costly debt accruing in human suffering.
Since 1994, there has been an alarming increase in Ebola outbreaks in parts of Western Africa often occurring in remote, rural communities and the terrifying epidemic can be directly linked to deforestation.
As we’ve seen in the news, Ebola causes dramatic bleeding and with this most recent outbreak, often results in horrific deaths. Even scarier, the disease is poised to devastate entire nations in West Africa unless new control measures are implemented. Scientists say the commonality is this: “growing human activity and deforestation in previously untouched forests brings humans into closer contact with rare disease strains viral enough to precipitate an epidemic.”
Deforestation is such a problem in West Africa that “all but 4 percent of [Sierra Leone’s] original forest cover was wiped out,” and will likely vanish by 2018. While Guinea, another country ravaged by deforestation and the point of origin of the current Ebola outbreak, almost 20 percent of its forests disappeared over a twenty year period beginning in the 1990s.
This unsustainable rate of logging and expansion has not only put people and livestock into closer contact with wild animals, which ramps up frequencies of exposure to “untouched reservoirs of Ebola,” but development of new infrastructure within these nations has allowed greater mobility and travel in Africa. New roads provide access to remote, previously isolated areas which in turn dramatically raises the chance of infection and the likelihood that the disease is spread.
The latest estimates from this week report more than 5,800 confirmed cases of Ebola and over 2,800 deaths since February with the potential to surpass 1 million cases by January. Worst of all, the CDC believes the numbers may actually be two and a half times higher.
In an attempt to lessen the economic impact that Ebola has had on Liberia, the financially starved country signed a deal with Norway to completely stop deforestation by 2020. Norway paid Liberia $150 million for this pact and will aid Liberia in establishing the capabilities to protect their forests. The deal also plans to reward communities that help guard the trees via direct compensation, but “ultimately the Norwegians will pay for results, with independent verification that the trees remain standing.”
Don’t get too excited. Things are still grim.
At today’s rates we are continuing to burn, hack, and destroy 36 football fields of forests every minute. That's over 50 acres. Gone. It’s hard to imagine that there are even enough forests still in existence to withstand this kind of pace.
And it seems we’re slipping behind once more.
Fortunately, those lessons about saving the rainforest I had as a 5 year old took hold with a larger collective as well and there is a strong public voice that wants to end this global catastrophe.
So let’s talk solutions.
The Call To Action
“Any realistic plan to reduce global warming pollution sufficiently—and in time—to avoid dangerous consequences must rely in part on preserving tropical forests.” - Environmental Defense Fund
So what can we do to preserve our forests? Sensible, long-term management practices are the key. We should not only oppose clear-cutting—the wholesale removal of trees over a wide area, which poses a particular threat to the world’s rain forests—but support reforestation programs that create an equilibrium by planting new trees to replace those that have been removed.
For starters, we recommend that you check out a few exemplary organizations:
THE NATIONAL FOREST FOUNDATION
The NFF is a partner with one of our favorite vendors, Allegory Handcrafted Goods (also one of this months' Wood'n It Be Nice features). The NFF is chartered by Congress, and was created in 1993 to work with the U.S. Forest Service both restore and enhance our National Forests and Grasslands. This is a solution that starts at home protecting our forests in the United States.
THE UNITED NATIONS COLLABORATIVE PROGRAMME ON REDUCING EMISSIONS FROM DEFORESTATION AND FOREST DEGREDATION (UN-REDD)
The initial phase of this large scale project is funded with $35 million. It is a global program started by the United Nations to combat deforestation, with nine countries have already expressed formal interest in receiving assistance including Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Tanzania, Viet Nam, and Zambia. Pilot projects will be rolled out to test ways of managing existing forests in order to maintain their ecosystem services and maximise their carbon stocks while delivering community and wide variety of livelihood benefits.
TREES FOR THE FUTURE
Trees for the Future is dedicated to planting trees with rural communities in the developing world, enabling them to restore their environment, grow more food, and build a sustainable future. It costs you just 10 cents to plant a tree, so think about what even a small amount like $50 will do.
Finally, head over to our own Wood'n it Be Nice feature. We interview three talented designers finding innovative way to use reclaimed and repurposed wood to create beautiful, super-cool products that don't deplete our precious forests.