Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The environment and ebola

It is clear that the spread of Ebola in West Africa is directly linked to the region's deep poverty: Out of 187 countries on the United Nations' Human Development Index, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone rank 175th, 179th and 183rd, respectively. But, while it is easy to recognize the links between poverty and the spread of the virus, there has been little focus on the root causes of the region's impoverishment itself. West Africa is in the running for the region with the highest deforestation rate in the world. Some researchers have drawn clear links between the outbreak of the disease and the resource exploitation that plagues the region. “Those who are knowledgeable about the relation between the increasing human contact with wildlife, some of which have been noted as carriers of the Ebola virus, attribute that to the increasing deforestation in the region. Deforestation in West Africa is continuing in an alarming way. Most of the forest cover in the entire upper Guinean forest ecosystem has been lost. Liberia is the only country in the region that retains a significant cover of rainforest. So, it is understandable that scientists are pointing out that there may be a link between declining forest cover, increasing human contact with wildlife and the Ebola outbreak.”

Across West Africa we are seeing lots of agribusinesses coming into the region. It's not new, but it is now being taken to a very severe scale, and they are decimating the last remaining plots of forest. So there is increasing loss of habitat for bats, for chimpanzees - and as a result, increasing contact with human communities. That's where our leadership needs to look at the Ebola crisis as a wake-up call: to begin to think, "Well, if diminishing forests and ecosystems are a problem, if increasing human-wildlife contact is a problem, than we need to take additional steps to avoid the situation getting worse."

“Palm oil companies like Golden Veroleum and Sime Darby grow the palm, and then process and export crude palm oil. But this is not for the Liberian market; it is not intended to contribute to the food needs of the country. This is intended to sell to Europe and to other parts of the world to be turned into biofuels. But this is land that we need to grow food. Rather than doing that, we are devoting all of this land to grow oil palm and other commodities for the West. This applies to all the raw materials we have.” explains Silas Siakor, director of Sustainable Development Institute/Friends of the Earth Liberia.

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