The Future of International Zoonotic Disease Spread: The Land Use Approach

A blog post by Bailey Andree, Junior Associate.

The perils of the COVID-19 pandemic are widespread. With deaths in every country on the planet, the effects are felt throughout the world and in our own homes. SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic disease, one that originates in animals and is transmitted to humans.[1] A single organism across the globe spread the disease to the first human, and now 263,563,622 people worldwide have contracted it.[2]

Zoonotic disease transmission increases with human development. As habitats are reduced and more “edge” habitat is created, more organisms are interacting with human settlements. The world is in desperate need of a reduction in the human-wildlife interface and land use controls are the means of doing so. Land use law is field that encompasses a wide range of land-oriented solutions to disease transmission; it is historically viewed through a local lens, but international solutions can also combat this threat.

As inhabitants of this planet, humans have chosen the path of domination, treating nature like it exists for the sole purpose of serving our needs. The cost of this path has become apparent in recent decades as climate change and its associated problems have come to a head. We have created the perfect conditions necessary for our destruction, and these conditions will only keep growing if we continue on the path we are on. We must make a change.

To reduce the likelihood of future pandemics like COVID-19, the root cause must be addressed. The disease ecology approach focuses on mitigation of the disease after-the-fact, developing scientific responses to problems in existence.[3] This is necessary to mitigate diseases that already exist, but ignores the fact that we are responsible for bringing them to fruition.  Land use controls can reduce the creation of these diseases in humans, stopping the mitigation process before it ever needs to get started. As self-proclaimed dominators of Earth, it is our duty to do so.

[1] Note: SARS-CoV-2 will be referred to as “COVID-19” and “COVID” throughout this paper; Rebecca Lipman, Zoonotic Diseases: Using Environmental Law to Reduce the Odds of a Future Pandemic, Harv. L. Sch. 154 (2015) (hereinafter, Future Pandemic).

[2] WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard, World Health Org., https://covid19.who.int/ (last accessed Dec. 4, 2021).

[3] Miriam L. Shiferaw et al., Frameworks for Preventing, Detecting, and Controlling Zoonotic Diseases, Emerging Infectious Diseases S71 (23) (December 2017).

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