Experts say that rapid deforestation of Brazilian Amazon could bring next pandemic
Nearly 25,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Brazil, with 1,378 deaths as of April 15, though some experts say this is an underestimate. Those figures continue growing, even as President Jair Bolsonaro downplays the crisis, calling it “no worse than a mild flu,” and places the economy above public health.
Scientists warn that the next emergent pandemic could originate in the Brazilian Amazon if Bolsonaro’s policies continue to drive Amazon deforestation rates ever higher. Researchers have long known that new diseases typically arise at the nexus between forest and agribusiness, mining, and other human development.
One way deforestation leads to new disease emergence is through fire, like the Amazon blazes seen in 2019. In the aftermath of wildfires, altered habitat often offers less food, changing animal behavior, bringing foraging wildlife into contact with neighboring human communities, creating vectors for zoonotic bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Now, Bolsonaro is pushing to open indigenous lands and conservation units to mining and agribusiness — policies which greatly benefit land grabbers. Escalating deforestation, worsened by climate change, growing drought and fire, heighten the risk of the emergence of new diseases, along with epidemics of existing ones, such as malaria.