The United Nations (UN)’s environmental agency has warned about the world’s worst ecological threats, including the surge in ailments transmitted from pets to humans and the rising buildup of toxic chemicals in food crops as a result of drought and hot climate.
In its “Frontiers” report released on Friday, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also highlighted the threat to human health posed by the startling amounts of plastic waste in the oceans.
It also cited scientific evidence suggesting that losses and damage from climate change are inevitable, with “profound consequences” for ecosystems, people, assets and economies.
Underlining “the critical relationship between a healthy environment and healthy people,” the report also emphasized the significance of offsetting global warming by moving to a low-carbon future.
The report said that the 20th century saw striking drops in ecosystems and biodiversity, and equally significant hikes in the numbers of people and domestic animals inhabiting the Earth. The trend increased the opportunity for viruses, bacteria and other pathogenic agents to transmit from wild and domestic animals through the environment and cause diseases in people, according to the report.
It further explained that such ailments — called “zoonotic” or “zoonoses” diseases — include Ebola, the bird flu, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the Rift Valley fever, and diseases caused by West Nile virus and Zika virus.
The report estimated that, in the past two decades, these emerging diseases have had direct costs of over $100 billion, and that “if these outbreaks had become human pandemics, the losses would have reached several trillion dollars.”
“Around 60 percent of all infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic as are 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases,” the report said, adding that, “On average, one new infectious disease emerges in humans every four months.”
With respect to toxic chemicals in crops, the UN report explained that plants normally convert nitrate into amino acids and protein, but drought slows the conversion, causing nitrates to accumulate and become toxic to animals.
Worldwide, it added, over 80 plant species are known to cause poisoning from the accumulation of nitrates; and wheat, barley, maize, millet, sorghum and soybeans are among the crops most susceptible.
“Acute nitrate poisoning in animals can lead to miscarriage, asphyxiation and death,” the report warned, pointing out that it can ruin the livelihoods of small farmers and herders.