COVID-19: WWF Calls for Urgent Global Action

AKP Phnom Penh, June 24, 2020 —

While the world continues to grapple with the devastating consequences of COVID-19, WWF is calling for urgent global action to address the key drivers it has identified which will cause future zoonotic disease outbreaks, according to WWF’s press release.

In a new report ‘COVID 19: urgent call to protect people and nature’, WWF says that the environmental factors driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases are: the trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife, land-use change leading to deforestation and conversion, expansion of agriculture and unsustainable intensification and animal production.

Numerous warnings from scientists and thought leaders, such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), have been made about the risk of a global pandemic. WEF ranked pandemics and infectious diseases as one of the top global risks over a decade ago, posing ‘an acute threat to human life’.

“We must urgently recognise the links between the destruction of nature and human health, or we will soon see the next pandemic. We must curb the high risk trade and consumption of wildlife, halt deforestation and land conversion as well as manage food production sustainably. All these actions will help prevent the spillover of pathogens to humans, and also address other global risks to our society like biodiversity loss and climate change. There is no debate, and the science is clear; we must work with nature, not against it. Unsustainable exploitation of nature has become an enormous risk to us all,” Mr. Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International said.

Questions remain about the exact origins of COVID-19, but all available evidence suggests that it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from wildlife to humans. The government of China announced a comprehensive ban on the consumption of wild animals on Feb. 24, which WWF supports and now, the  National People’s Congress (NPC) is supporting the revision of the existing law on the protection of wildlife, which, if implemented in full, could position China’s Wildlife Protection Law as one of the world’s most robust and stringent. Other governments must also follow suit and close their high-risk wildlife markets and end this trade once and for all.

Wildlife in protected areas from across the region, Cambodia included, become more vulnerable to poachers since the imposed restriction of movement and isolation to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Cambodian rangers from WWF’s supported protected areas are witnessing the increased pressures of illegal activities on the forests including land encroachment, harvesting of non-timber forest products inside restricted zones and hunting with homemade guns and snares. They removed a total of 3,658 sets of snare during the dry season of December 2019-May 2020. This represents an increase of 15 percent if compared with the number of 2,451 sets of snare removed during the same period of the last dry season. In parallel, the number of illegal land clearing has also increased by 36 percent with 29 occurrences recorded during period of December 2019-May 2020 and only 12 occurrences registered in December 2018-May 2019.

“In Cambodia, enforcement efforts by the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have been valiant, and the 2019 Mondulkiri Governor’s Circular No. 5 has contributed to reducing the availability of wildlife products and wild meat at the provincial markets and restaurants,” said Mr. Seng Teak, Country Director of WWF-Cambodia. “In order to ensure that Cambodian people remain safe and healthy and that the next zoonotic outbreak doesn’t start here, urgent and appropriate measures are needed to end the trade in wild animals – especially mammals, birds and reptiles which are at high risk of transmitting diseases to humans.”

The COVID-19 crisis demonstrates that systemic changes must be made to address the environmental drivers of pandemics. WWF is advocating a ‘One Health’ approach linking the health of people, animals and our shared environment and wants this to be included in decision making on wildlife and land use change. This should also be incorporated within all business and financing decisions, particularly related to global health.

“In the midst of this tragedy there is an opportunity to heal our relationship with nature and mitigate risks of future pandemics but a better future starts with the decisions governments, companies and people around the world take today.” said Mr. Lambertini. “World leaders must take urgent action to transform our relationship with the natural world. We need a New Deal for Nature and People that sets nature on the path to recovery by 2030 and safeguards human health and livelihoods in the long-term.”

By Heng Panha