Investigating links between forest fragmentation and outbreaks of Ebola virus disease in Africa

Sierra Leone

The Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) is a Sierra Leone-based non-governmental organization that has been working since 1992 to facilitate community-led programs for sustainable forest management as a basis for poverty alleviation in Africa. The ERM Foundation has been working with EFA since 2012.

EFA approached the ERM Foundation in 2014 at the height of the Ebola crisis, to investigate suspected links between outbreaks of Ebola virus disease (EVD) and forest fragmentation in West and Central Africa. The results from this original research are potentially significant and suggest that a specific configuration of forest-fragmentation parameters may increase the likelihood of the Ebola virus passing from its wildlife host (frequently hypothesised to be bats) into the human population.

Central to the research was an ERM-led GIS modelling exercise that analysed satellite imagery at the locations of seven EVD ‘index case’ locations. This provided a clearer understanding of the empirical conditions in which the initial animal-to-human transmission of the Ebola virus took place. In 6 out of 7 of the cases we studied, EVD emerged where and when forest fragmentation parameters were within a narrow range of values. The report also analyses bats’ response to fragmented forest landscapes, finding that in such conditions it may be more likely for unusual assemblages of species, including humans and bats, to come into closer and more frequent contact than would normally be the case – potentially in conditions favourable to disease transmission.

In September 2015, a report of the research findings was launched formally by EFA and the ERM Foundation in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The ERM Foundation has since co-funded an EFA-led workshop in Sierra Leone, which brought together regional technical experts to review the report’s findings and start identifying concrete recommendations to feed into post-EVD recovery planning in the three worst affected countries.

Partner organization: Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA)

Learn more about the EFA

Read a one-page summary of the report and recommendations

Read the full report

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