For Immediate Release
Bangkok— The U.S. Agency for International Development, Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA) today announced a three-year, $2 million award to EcoHealth Alliance to address land use alteration as a significant driver of both disease emergence and climate change in Asia.
Over 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases over the past six decades—from SARS to pandemic H1N1 and HIV—have originated in animals, with nearly half linked to land use change, agricultural intensification, or changes in food production. Land alterations accelerate the pace and diversity of human and animal contact, enabling pathogens to spill over from animal populations, a first spark in the chain of events that ignites global pandemics. Simultaneously, deforestation and forest degradation resulting from land alterations account for between 14 to 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a rough equivalent to the entire global transportation sector. The key to reducing the threat from diseases of pandemic potential and slowing climate change is a more comprehensive understanding of how functional ecosystems mitigate disease emergence and enhance carbon storage.
In partnership with the Sabah Wildlife Department and University of Malaysia Sabah, EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization focusing on local conservation and global health, will apply data from the Kinabatangan basin in Sabah, Malaysia to value the infectious disease regulatory role of ecosystems. By capturing value from disease avoidance as a significant component of total ecosystem services valuations, the work is expected to yield actionable, economically sound strategies to promote reduced impact land use policy.
“Emerging infectious disease of pandemic potential and climate change threaten social and economic stability and are impediments to sustainable development,” said RDMA Mission Director Michael Yates. “In creating evidence-based tools for utilization in reducing deforestation, associated carbon emissions, and risk of disease emergence, the project presents an opportunity to apply science and technology solutions to development challenges at scale.”
The project will launch a Sabah-based Center for Development and Health, serving as a clearinghouse for multi-disciplinary applied research, training, and advocacy. The center will serve a key function in building alliances and engaging industry in designing solutions to these common challenges by hosting regular roundtables that convene stakeholders from across the Malaysian government, civil society, and the private sector.
Dr Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance, said “This project will set the agenda for how we can bring together international development, health and environmental programs under one umbrella. By building a partnership with government and the private sector, we will develop solutions that have real traction to reduce carbon emmissions, promote a healthier planet, while at the same time building sustainable economic growth.”
“There is increasing evidence that intact ecosystems are better able to reduce risk of infectious disease spillover events, a function that’s an important component of ecosystem services,” said Datuk Dr. Laurentius Ambu, Director of the Sabah Wildlife Department. “By placing economic value on this ecosystem service, the project will help strengthen appreciation for maintaining healthy ecosystems, reducing infectious disease spillover events, and will provide the tools needed to guide sustainable land use policies.”
Last updated: April 15, 2014