There are plenty of reasons to fight against deforestation – climate change, loss of animal habitat and destruction of indigenous ways of life – but there’s one reason that you may not have considered. According to researchers, deforestation may have played a role in this year’s devastating ebola outbreak. While cutting away swaths of African forest, loggers may have also been inadvertently creating convenient and unexpected pathways for the virus to spread.
Ebola has killed over 4,500 people in West Africa and has sparked concern across the globe, including in the US, where three people – two nurses and a Liberian refugee, who died of the disease – have contracted the disease so far. According to a 2005 report, infectious diseases like the deadly ebola often start out as animal-borne disease. In fact, about 75% of infectious diseases start out that way before mutating and making the leap to human carriers.
So where does deforestation come in? As humans destroy animal habitat and move further and further into formerly forested areas, they come in closer contact with animals that could be carrying the virus. On top of that, roadways through the forests enable people to travel further, spreading the disease more easily than they would have otherwise.
Perhaps not coincidentally, in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries where the disease has hit the hardest, the forest have been reduced dramatically. In Guinea, the forest is a mere one-fifth of its original size. A 2012 article explains that, “extensive deforestation and human activities in the depth of the forests may have promoted direct or indirect contact between humans and a natural reservoir of the virus.” As if there wasn’t reason enough to be against deforestation.