On July 7th, 2022, the Science Panel for the Amazon held an official UN HLPF event titled “A Green and Inclusive Recovery in the Amazon”. SPA authors André Baniwa, Liliana Dávalos, Andrés Lescano, and SPA Co-Chair Carlos Nobre presented their perspectives on the link between deforestation and disease, the risks of future pandemics in the Amazon, and the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the Amazon.
The Amazon is one of the regions most affected by the COVID-19 crisis and has also long been approaching a tipping point of no return. The region’s ecosystem services are threatened, which could lead to major humanitarian and environmental crises, including future pandemics and catastrophic global climate change impacts. This HLPF side event highlighted how the Amazon region and Indigenous communities have been affected, and discussed potential solutions to build resilience, avoid future pandemics and irreversible tipping points, and advance sustainable development pathways—including restoration, investments in science, technology, innovation, and bioeconomy.
Dr. Lescano’s presentation specifically detailed the links between deforestation and other vectorborne epidemics, such as Chagas disease, and the main drivers behind deforestation and degradation including agriculture, mining, and logging. The public health impact of COVID-19 was discussed, as well as the high mortality rates in Peru. Dr. Lescano highlighted that a large percentage of the Amazon region was unable to protect themselves from the virus. The main impacts found in the Amazon region following COVID-19 were: magnified poverty, inequities, and disparities; increased social and public health vulnerabilities; increased mistrust in governments and public health systems; and increased overall vulnerability to the impacts of COVID-19. Dr. Lescano highlighted the importance of looking at the issues holistically, stating, “It’s important to be able to restore not just ecological balance but also the public health balance and addressing inequities that this ecological disruption generates. It’s not just about the nature, it’s also about the human lives in the region.”Dr. Dávalos presented about the land-use changes in the Amazon and how it puts the region at risk for future pandemics. She specifically highlighted the endemic small mammals, rodents, and bats that exist in the Western Amazon region and the impact that climate change has on their displacement and thus, allowing viruses to present a bigger threat. A map of patterns of diversity in COVID-19 hosts showed just how rich the diversity in the Amazon is, making the risk of future pandemics there potentially much greater. Dr. Dávalos stated, “Sooner or later our luck will run out. That is why I advocate strengthening the ability to diagnose. We need Amazonian knowledge & tools in the hands of Amazonian peoples to stop the next pandemic.” The presentation ended by showing data on how viruses undermine conservation policy and giving examples of how lack of protection in the Amazon is incredibly risky and has resulted in violence towards forest defenders.
Dr. Carlos Nobre then presented an overview of the Science Panel for the Amazon, why it is so vital for the region, and SPA’s key messages and recommendations. An overview of the region and its connection to the water cycle and global climate system was presented as well as the data behind the tipping points the area is reaching. Dr. Nobre ended by detailing the solutions and key actions presented in the report including a moratorium in the areas reaching a tipping point, zero deforestation and degradation, restoration of ecosystems, and investment into science, technology and a new bioeconomy.
Lastly, Indigenous leader André Baniwa gave his perspective on the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous communities and the investments needed for an inclusive recovery. He spoke on how hard the COVID-19 pandemic was for Indigenous communities, specifically the high death toll on the population. He stated that for COVID-19 recovery and economic transformation in Indigenous communities, investments in Indigenous products and market research and infrastructure is needed. He emphasizes that there is potential to open a new kind of market inside their communities with proper investments. He ended on an optimistic note, expressing that the new administration in Colombia and possibly Brazil offer an opportunity to renew commitments and enact new policies for the protection of the Amazon.
The event ended with a lively Q&A discussion between the panelists expanding further on their presentations. If you missed the event and would like to rewatch it, you can watch it on our youtube channel.