Giovane Garrido Mendonca, 24, works as an eco tour guide in Tumbira, a jungle community along the banks of the Rio Negro. He comes from a family that for generations cut old-growth trees from the surrounding area. In 2008, the government turned hundreds of thousands of acres of rainforest surrounding Tumbira into a “sustainable development reserve.” To dissuade residents from deforesting, a nonprofit helped the village open an eco resort.
Life is hard for settlers who live on the edge of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Logging, mining and cattle farming continue with the blessing of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. But scientists say these activities are linked to the emergence of infectious disease. As people demolish forest, they not only accelerate global warming but also dramatically increase their risk of exposure to disease.
Lurking in mammals and birds are about 1.6 million viruses, some of which will be deadly when they leap to humans. The stakes turn catastrophic if a virus proves transmissible between people.
For people who live in settlements in northeastern Amazonas state — there are thousands of informal communities throughout the world’s largest rainforest — ongoing logging could imperil not only their children’s future but also that of the entire planet.
More pandemics like COVID-19 are on the way, scientists say, and the next one is likely to emerge in an area where people are encroaching on the natural world and erasing the buffer between themselves and habitats that existed long before a shovel cut this earth.