Covid-19: A reminder of the threat posed by biodiversity Degradation

Globally, around 25 percent of all animal and plant species are threatened with extinction largely due to loss of habitat. This is consistent with Uganda’s biodiversity degradation trend. The loss of animal habitat is resulting in crowding of animal species and increasing human-animal contact, posing a major disease threat to humans.

Research increasingly shows that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases such as Zika, Ebola, Sars, bird flu, and now Covid-19 are on the rise. These pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and with the global interconnectedness many are able to spread quickly to far off places resulting in rapid global epidemics. Uganda is ranked 13th in the world for mammal species richness and possesses 10 percent of the world’s total bird species making animal and plant biodiversity a fundamental element of Uganda’s life support system.

According to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda is experiencing animal and plant biodiversity changes evidenced by extinctions. These are driven by a loss of habitats such as forests, swamps, grasslands, and air and water pollution among others. While the government has made tremendous progress in protecting plant and animal biodiversity, large chunks of the country’s biodiversity are outside the government protected areas.

According to the National Forest Authority about 64 percent of forests in Uganda are found on private land outside of protected areas. The same can be said for swamps and savannah ecosystems. The existing land tenure system of landholdings such as leasehold and customary holding offers little incentive to the land occupants to conserve biodiversity.

They thus continue to unsustainably open up land for human settlement, cut trees for wood and charcoal burning, convert much of the swamps and savannah ecosystems for agriculture, livestock grazing, and industrial parks. With the raging Covid-19 global pandemic, biodiversity conservation is now at the very heart of man’s survival.

Given the urgency and importance of taking action, this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22nd under the theme: Our solutions are in nature, is targeted towards raising awareness on biodiversity loss and building momentum on the importance of biodiversity. We all need to urgently take action that stops the destruction of the environment across all levels.

The government should continue to strengthen and scale up interventions that promote the use of biodiversity-friendly practices in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. The current ongoing efforts to combat overfishing on Lake Victoria are a good example of what the government can do so as to sustain and restore the balance and the sustainability of food systems and biodiversity.

Existing dedicated and responsive biodiversity conservation funding mechanisms focusing on key biodiversity areas outside of protected areas should be supported to scale up conservation interventions. We should all strive to make daily lifestyle choices that have a positive impact on long-term biodiversity conservation such as supporting sustainable agri-businesses, reducing food waste, and unnecessary packaging as part of possible solutions.

These efforts should be undertaken alongside global concerted efforts similar to the Paris Agreements for the climate. With these actions, we can halt biodiversity degradation and overcome its associated human threats of which Covid-19 is the latest.

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