How deforestation helped unleash Ebola

by Guest Blogger

October 15, 2014

Crossposted from Grist byAmelia Urry

Perhaps you have heard about Ebola, otherwise known as The Most Terrifying Disease Of Our Modern Times (Sorry, MERs;panic is a fickle friend). But you might not have heard that Ebolas origin story also features a favorite environmental arch-villain? And by favorite, I mean actually the worst: deforestation.

You see, the most recent outbreak of this particularstrain of theEbola virus began lastDecember, in a town called Meliandou in the sleepy Forest Region of Guinea. That is, it used to be forested, as a recent article in Vanity Fair pointed out:

Trees were felled to make way for farms or burned down for charcoal. Endless truckloads of timber were shipped to construction companies. The forest suffered another trauma as mining interests the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto, the omnipresent Chinese pushed aggressively to exploit the countrys natural resources (bauxite mostly). As the forests disappeared, so too did the buffer separating humans from animals and from the pathogens that animals harbor.

And that buffer was not in place when one fateful fruit bat came into contact with ahuman toddler late last year:

Ordinary life in Meliandou came to an end on the day last December when the Ebola virus, which had last claimed a fatality thousands of miles away, arrived in the village, most likely in the body of a fruit bat its natural non-human reservoir, according to a virtual consensus among scientists. Mining and clear-cutting had driven bats from their natural habitats and occasionally closer to people, like those of Meliandou. And fruit bats love palm and mango, which ripen in the villages remaining trees. Bats also feed in colonies, which makes them tempting targets: a single shotgun blast can bring down 10.

While in many ways Ebola qualifies asanatural disaster, its worth remembering that the distinction between natural and human-made is a fineone. Sandy was a natural disaster, for example, but New York Citys bad coastal infrastructure made it worse. Samewith Ebola: What could have been an exclusively harmless fruit-bat affair instead took a leap across the thinning fringe of wilderness, traveled by land and by air in ourincreasingly interconnected world and well, here we are.

Theres a lot more deep and very sad thinking about epidemics, mourning, and the risks health-workers take to care for others in the Vanity Fair article here. Read it but maybe bringa box of tissues and a hazmat suit.

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