By Nachilala Nkombo
The impact of COVID 19 is heartbreaking. Over 2 million people around the world have been infected in less than 12 months. All around the world, we have seen how health systems have come under enormous pressure to save human lives, in some cases with success in others failing to save lives. We have seen how economies including ours have come to a standstill. China, Italy, Spain and now the US have been reeling with escalating infections. We have seen how in countries like Ecuador where human bodies have been dumped on the street. Covid19 has brought with it immense human suffering and disruption to economic activities.
At WWF Zambia, we stand with not only Zambia, our government, our partners but the whole world in the fight against covid19 and also in extending our thoughts and best wishes for healing and restoration for those infected.
In Zambia, the pandemic has claimed three lives already, a situation that is extremely unfortunate as no life deserves to be lost. We have seen the great effort and leadership that has been demonstrated by the Minister of Health and the Republican president to safe guard all life by amplifying a prevention campaign. As WWF Zambia, we support the renewed Government calls for preventive measures in line with the WHO prescribed preventive guidelines.
Over the last few days we have noted that cases in Zambia have continued to rise, showing that the treat of COVID -19 is still eminent and the public must remain alert and engaged in supporting all government efforts to curb this pandemic. We have also noted from the Minister’s statement a few days ago, pointing to the fact that the impact of COVID-19 to the Zambian economy is huge as the economy is now projected to achieve a negative growth of -2.6% as opposed to earlier projections of 3.6% at the beginning of the fiscal year 2020. The Minister has also alluded to the fact that revenue targeted will not be achieved and a deficit of about 14.8 billion Kwacha is now anticipated. This will place tremendous pressure on debt repayment, continued social spending for health, education and social protection and well as spurring investments in key economic sectors such as Tourism, construction and agriculture to keep the economic cylinders firing.
At WWF we believe the situation facing our country today requires concerted efforts to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on both the social and economic front. It is our considered view that the Zambian government will require the support of stakeholders to bring the pandemic to a halt and identify clear opportunities within this context that will revive the socio-economic-status quo over the next few months.
As WWF we have emulated infection prevention measures that have not only been observed globally, regionally but those enforced by our country in combating the pandemic. We are partnering with others such as Zambia Breweries, Lusaka Water Security Initiative -LUSWI and the BCCET to highlight economy and environmental wide implications on COVID-19 and also raise awareness of Covid19 and distribute protective wear in vulnerable communities. We have responded to social distancing by ensuring that our staff work from home. All WWF field operations in the country and in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), particularly work in Sioma Ngwezi National Park in Zambia, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe have been postponed. KAZA is at the heart of five countries namely – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We understand that these countries have been affected by the pandemic and some have since undergone National Lock Down which has caused stress on food availability especially among communities in Conservancies.
We acknowledge the pandemic could lead to food insecurities and reduced funding for protect areas management and thereby increased poaching for meat among communities in conservancies in KAZA. To address this, WWF Namibia are putting together an emergency plan using funds from the recently established Community Conservation Fund for Namibia (CCFN) and an international call for help. In Angola, efforts of maintaining communication in the communities have been enforced. A landline telephone is being used to communicate with the communities.
As we support the social distancing, hygiene, mask up efforts and other medical measures, WWF Zambia would like to share a few thoughts around us understanding the source of Covid19 and related infectious diseases. Existing scientific information about the source of the virus and the measures to prevent its spread emphasize the connectedness of human health and healthy environments. At WWF we believe the two are inseparable. Various studies show that an upsurge in the emergence of new infectious diseases started about 3 decades ago before the corona virus appeared.
Covid-19 and previous serious public health pandemics such as Ebola, Zika and Nipah viruses have been linked to biodiversity loss and in particular to deforestation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it originated from an animal. The destruction of natural habitats brings us face to face with diseases that were once confined to the wilderness. Further, it should be noted that trade in wildlife, legal and illegal can do be transmitters too of viruses that can cause human ill health and have adverse effects as we have seen from effects of Ebola, Zika and now COVID -19 that are zoonotic in nature.
To date, the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak is believed to be a market that sold live and dead wildlife and domestic animals for consumption in Wuhan, China. Since the outbreak, the government of China has closed its wildlife markets and banned the consumption of wildlife for food. While medical efforts are front and center and rightfully so, national and global efforts to prevent such pandemics should include controlling deforestation and illegal wildlife trade.
The world is at a point of pain right now facing the impacts of the coronavirus, tomorrow the world may face impacts of another equally terrible virus. What we know for sure is that if we reduce human disturbances in wildlife ecosystems and maintain healthy ecosystems with their natural biodiversity, we can be guaranteed of a secure and healthy future as a human race. We need to protect our natural habitats to safe guard our health and the human race – for people and nature.