Over the past few months, West Africa has been experiencing the biggest and most deadly Ebola outbreak on record and deforestation is a key part of why.
There have been 759 confirmed infections and 467 deaths since February. The virus has been identified in 60 different locations at this point, and it's expected to keep spreading. But the outbreak began in a rural area. In fact, Ebola outbreaks in general tend to begin in rural areas, on the edge of the jungle … and that, write James West and Tim McDonnell in Mother Jones and Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post, is how public health and human destruction of forests intersect.
"The increase in Ebola outbreaks since 1994 is frequently associated with drastic changes in forest ecosystems in tropical Africa," wrote researchers in a 2012 study in the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research. "Extensive deforestation and human activities in the depth of the forests may have promoted direct or indirect contact between humans and a natural reservoir of the virus."
Such a conclusion is particularly troublesome for West Africa, which has never before experienced an Ebola outbreak like this one, and is reported to have one of the world's highest rates of regional deforestation. The Guinea Rainforest has been ravaged by deforestation and has shrunk to less than one-fifth of its original size. In Liberia, more than half of the forests have been sold off to logging companies, according to the Guardian. And Sierra Leone is "seriously threatened" by deforestation, according to Chatham House's Illegal Logging Portal.