Protecting forests can help the world find medicines to treat the coronavirus and potential future pandemics and thus restore livelihoods from the brink of collapse, says Kitui County Ecosystem Conservator Joyce Nthuku.
Nthuku says Kenya Forest Service (KFS) is promoting the planting of bamboo trees in Kitui County in an effort to achieve 10 percent forest cover by 2022, provide steady supply of medicinal raw materials, conserve riparian areas as well as boost income for locals.
Speaking in Kyawea Forest in Kitui West Sub-County after a tree planting exercise on Wednesday, she lamented that deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction are signals for the rise of infectious diseases such as coronavirus globally.
“As climate change contributes to a surge in disease outbreaks across the world, scientists warn that current rates of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss will lead to more deadly pandemics,” she said.
Scientists warn that the total number of disease outbreaks has more than tripled each decade since the 1980s adding more than two thirds of the diseases afflicting people today originated from animals.
Nthuku disclosed that habitat destruction like deforestation and agricultural development on wildland are increasingly forcing disease-carrying wild animals closer to humans, allowing new strains of infectious diseases to thrive.
“When you cut down trees and remove the forest, you eliminate the natural environment of some species. But those species don’t just disappear; they move closer to human habitation leading to the spike in infections,” said the Ecosystem Conservator.
Scientists say the coronavirus pandemic is the most recent instance of how human degradation of wildlife habitats is linked to the spread of infectious diseases.
The World Health Organisation reports that an animal is the likely cause of the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19), which has infected tens of thousands of people worldwide and placed a strain on the global economy.
According to WHO, bats are the most probable carrier of COVID-19. The organization also states that it is also possible the virus was transmitted to humans from another intermediate host, either a domestic or a wild animal.
“Humans and nature are part of one connected system, and nature provides the food, medicine, water, clean air and many other benefits that have allowed people to thrive,” said the Ecosystem Conservator.
She said that protecting forests can help the world find medicines to treat the coronavirus and potential future pandemics.
“We know that medicines used the world over come out of the forests and that by losing the forests we put in danger future solutions to mitigate illness and diseases that affect human beings,” she said.
Nthuku said that KFS is promoting bamboo trees in the semi-arid Kitui County to help stabilise the soils, boost water sources and restore and repair the riparian lands.
She highlighted bamboo as a core development resource that can help create a wealth of practical solutions while reducing the negative effects that changing climate patterns has on rural communities.
“Bamboo is critical in building climate resilient communities and can help the poor control flooding while protecting the environment, biodiversity and the ecosystem,” she said after leading community forest association members to plant over 200 bamboo seedlings in Kyawea Forest.
She noted that bamboo plays a valuable environmental role adding that its complex root system acts as an efficient water filter, removing nutrients and dangerous poisons such as heavy metals before they get into the food chain.
Additionally, Nthuku said that its ability to grow faster than many hardwoods makes bamboo ideal for absorbing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, compacting desertification and global warming.
By Yobesh Onwong’a