I'm Helen Reid, and I travelled to Liberia for our project on bats, deforestation, and pandemic risk. As a Reuters Africa mining correspondent, I was examining how mining is a driver of deforestation and what mining companies can do to better assess and mitigate public health risks.

I’m Ryan McNeill, deputy data journalism editor at Reuters. I’m based in London. I worked with my colleagues to help identify areas highest at risk for spillover of viruses from bats to humans.

Read our investigative series here.


Comments: 32 • Responses: 9  • Date: 

Ok-Echidna38225 karma

The rain forest has been a major source for new medicines over centuries. With the destruction of these wild areas where millions of species, from microscopic organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, plants and insects, to anmials, comp1ete and therefore evolve to prevent or "cure" each other's pressure, not only are we getting closer to germs that would have never reached humans without unbridled expansion of our species, aren't we making impossible to eventually find the remedies that kept these diseases from wiping out organisms who used to live in isolation?

reuters6 karma

Unfortunately, that was not part of our investigation. However, Jake Spring and Grant Smith detailed how little we know about the Amazon and its wildlife. They interviewed a scientist Thiago Bernardi Viera, who is a biologist from Brazil’s Federal University of Para. His mission is to collect basic information about the bats in the rainforest. But his initial budget was $3,000, followed by a second grant of $21,000. Not a lot of money considering the vast amount of work to be done. What worries scientists most are the unknown viruses that could be lurking in the vast rainforest. - RM

reuters5 karma

We’re signing off now. Thanks for the questions. Here are links to the full investigation:

btk7895 karma

Are certain parts of the world at bigger risk of spillover than others? Where should mining companies do better in particular?

reuters8 karma

Yes. As part of our analysis, we identified areas most at risk. We dubbed those areas “jump zones.” We identified jump zones in 113 countries. But some areas have more jump zones than others. For example, about 1.5 million square kilometers of Brazil are jump zones, more than any other country, driven by the destruction in the Amazon. Jump zones are mainly in tropical areas.
As for mining companies: In part five, which explores solutions, Helen and Grant Smith found that some experts are calling for mining companies to complete Health Impact Assessments before they start building new mines. This requirement should also apply for big infrastructure and construction projects, they said. RM HR

in-drz2 karma

How can we utilize mapping resources like GIS to better understand the detrimental effects of mining on the environment—is this data public, and if so what are some sources?

Additionally, what are some prime examples of mining in the US that also contribute to deforestation? If there aren’t, are there other factors that are large driving forces behind deforestation besides vested private interests? Thank you so much!

reuters5 karma

We used GIS to examine mining concessions in West Africa. And yes, many governments have made mining concessions data available publicly. And that helps with the first step, which is identifying where mining activity is occurring. There are many ways to examine the effects with public data, such as tree cover loss. There’s also many sources of satellite imagery that’s publicly available and can be used to examine the presence of mining and associated environmental damage. As for the second part of your question, we didn’t investigate mining in the US; however, other large driving forces behind tree loss globally, include shifting agriculture, agricultural intensification and wildfires. - RM

reuters4 karma

In terms of other factors, in West Africa, where I reported for this story, “project-induced in-migration” is very common. That’s the name given to migration of people to an area around a mining project in the hope of getting work. So, when a mine project is announced, people move there, and there’s typically not enough jobs at the mine for all the people. So people can turn to farming or hunting instead, for subsistence. That can also be a driver of deforestation that is (indirectly) caused by mining. HR

Valexmia0 karma

Capitalism is in full force globally. What incentive/regulation would you present to business (if you were government) in order to address on this growing issue?

reuters4 karma

COVID-19 showed governments and companies around the world that pandemics are hugely costly. The cost of preparing for a pandemic is tiny compared to the financial impact it can cause. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that COVID-19 will have cost the world economy $13.8 trillion through 2024.
But still, convincing governments and companies to invest in preparing for the next pandemic is not easy.
“It’s just very hard to justify putting money into something that might be a problem in the future,” said Raina Plowright, an ecologist and epidemiologist at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who has studied spillovers. That’s all the more so because success – preventing disease – can be hard to show. “If we stop it from ever being a problem,” she added, “no one actually really knows that we stopped it.”
Some experts are pushing for better regulation, including forcing companies to assess the risk their activities could cause spillover. You can read more about this here https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/global-pandemic-bats-solutions/

TopEar2-1 karma

how can we help stop the next pandemic?

reuters0 karma

Scientists say that we need to limit human intrusions into wild habitat – so protecting wildlife reserves, restricting the wildlife trade, and slowing deforestation are key to reducing the risk of zoonotic spillover (when a virus jumps from an animal into a human). We also need to do a whole lot more research on the ways in which spillover happens, as there’s still a lot we don’t know about this.
Funding is a big problem, and developing countries have less public health capacity than the rich world, so many countries are contributing to a Pandemic Fund meant to help bridge that gap. HR

newPhoenixz0 karma

so protecting wildlife reserves, restricting the wildlife trade, and slowing deforestation

I remember hearing that this is a requirement for the survival of the human species since at least 40 years ago. What happened in that time? EVERYTHING got worse and faster. Deforestation is faster, wildlife reserves gave been dwindling faster, climate change has been going faster... Humanity is driving itself off a cliff and no-one capable of stopping it seems to care. That, and a million empty promises that were all laughingly ignored.

What can actually be done to make those in charge ACTUALLY care and ACTUALLY come with real solutions?

reuters4 karma

The reason why it’s so hard to find a solution to pandemic risk is the same reason why it’s tough coming to agreements on slowing climate change. Public health is a global public good, and a healthy planet is also a global public good. That makes it very difficult to assign responsibility, in our nation-state structures, for who is in charge of what and who is accountable for what. It also makes it easy for discussions to descend into finger-pointing.
The glimmer of hope here is that many of the scientists we spoke to said COVID-19 had been a wake-up call, and the intrinsic link between healthy wildlife and healthy humans (a concept called One Health) is being talked about a lot more. One Health is cited as a core concept in the draft Pandemic Treaty that is set to be agreed in a year’s time.You can have a look at the draft here: https://apps.who.int/gb/inb/pdf_files/inb4/A_INB4_3-en.pdf HR

tugweltp-4 karma

Why aren't you focusing on the underlying problem, human overpopulation? More humans=more development =more destruction of bat habitat.

reuters3 karma

Once we identified the high-risk areas, which we called jump zones, we used Worldpop data to estimate the population inside those areas, as well as how it changed over time. However, overpopulation is a very loaded term. Also, while the number of people in bat habitats can increase the danger, so too can a single miner going deep into the forest. You can read more about our methods here: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/global-pandemic-bats-jumpzones/ — RM/HR