Stopping the next pandemic from happening might rely on stopping tree loss—and we're failing woefully on that front. In its deep dive into the subject, ProPublica goes down two paths: It takes a look at what happened in Meliandou, Guinea, in 2013 to cause the worst Ebola outbreak on record and where the village is at now. And it presents the results of an analysis that evaluates the risk of viral spillover from deforestation at various sites. The findings are grim. Of six epicenters of previous Ebola outbreaks that were evaluated, five experienced worsening tree loss, "raising their chances of facing the deadly virus again." Deforestation is problematic in that it puts humans and infected animals—particularly bats and rats—in close proximity.
In Meliandou, ProPublica describes forest clearings that look like holes in Swiss cheese. The slopes erode easily and quickly lose nutrients, causing villagers to regularly cut down new swaths of forest to farm. Extinguishing the Ebola epidemic that jumped from a bat to a toddler named Emile to other Meliandou villagers to some 28,600 people ending up costing $3.6 billion. And yet no money has been spent on teaching the villagers farming methods that could mitigate their need to clear additional forest. Echoes of this can be seen in COVID-19 spending, with a global pandemic prevention fund opting to cover things like labs and disease surveillance in its initial round of funding rather than addressing deforestation. Reducing the risk of spillover wouldn't be cheap, but the economic and human cost of pandemics is much higher, ProPublica argues. (For much, much more, read the full story.)