Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Everything is connected: wetlands and bird flu

I'm probably preaching to the converted here but here's another reminder that things are connected in ways we don't always understand and the environment isn't just something "out there" that we can ignore: environmental problems far away can have surprising impacts on us.

A United Nations (UN) report just released says restoring the world's wetlands may be critical to preventing outbreaks of avian flu, as their revival will keep migratory birds from mixing with domesticated fowl. It says the degradation of wetlands has forced wild birds, some carrying the deadly H5N1 strain, into alternative habitats. That increases the risk of the spread of the disease to poultry and, in turn, humans:

"The loss of wetlands around the globe is forcing many wild birds onto alternative sites like farm ponds and paddy fields, bringing them into direct contact with chickens, ducks, geese and other domesticated fowl," the report said.

The report, which has been presented at a two-day conference at the Nairobi-based UN Environment Program (UNEP), notes that contact between migratory birds and their domesticated cousins is a major cause of the spread of avian flu.

That includes the H5N1 strain, which is potentially deadly to humans. "We know there is a very tight link between the conditions of ecosystems and the likelihood of threats to human health," David Rapport, a Canadian professor of ecosystem health and the lead author of the study, said.


hc said...

David, Isn't it also sensible that birds kept for human consumption be separated From those in the wild. Free range may not be sensible.

I worry that eventually governments will be encouraged to cull wild migratory bird species on the grounds they may spread bird flu.

David Jeffery said...

That's a good point Harry and one I haven't thought about. Is there much interaction between free range and wild birds?