“Our economies, our societies, our communities have to rediscover how to live with nature. And how they do that in the coming years will in large part determine whether the magnitude of pandemics, natural disasters, crises become more and more intense, or whether we can re-establish a degree of coexistence with nature that actually stabilizes our communities, our societies, our economies, and therefore becomes a way of thinking about the future of development with different parameters.” Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, April 9th 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly brought much of the world to a stop, with profound impacts on every aspect of life. The global economy has severely contracted, everyday life has changed in previously unimaginable ways, and the world’s health services are being placed under unprecedented pressure as nations and individuals try to cope with the pandemic.

The root cause of the significant increase in zoonotic diseases and public health emergencies is disturbance of nature, by a variety of factors including climate change, destruction and degradation of natural areas, loss of ecosystem services and species, as well as illegal wildlife trade and risks associated with poorly-managed or unsustainable wildlife consumption and livestock farming.

Not the least of the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis are those on nature itself and people whose livelihoods depend on nature, including wildlife tourism and small-scale agriculture, those who work on nature conservation, especially in rural areas. These include:

  • The tourism industry, which accounts for 10.3% of the global GDP, currently in a state of collapse as a result of global travel restrictions and measures, has been crucial in providing revenue for countless conservation and natural resource management programmes, creating jobs and empowering communities, particularly those living adjacent to protected areas or on other lands dedicated to nature conservation. Wildlife tourism support over 21.8 million jobs across the world, contributing a total of $343.6 billion in direct and indirect benefits across the tourism supply chain. The sudden absence of the revenue generated by tourism will, unless ameliorated by rapid action, have a devastating impact on jobs and the well-being of entire rural communities in wildlife rich areas, particularly in developing countries and SIDS. 
  • Many vulnerable, rural, and marginalised communities will bear the brunt of COVID-19-related health and economic impacts, both in urban and rural areas where an estimated 80% of the extremely poor live and where 65% of people work in the agricultural sector, many on degraded lands. The potential spread of diseases, lockdown and supply-chain interruptions could exacerbate their existing vulnerabilities (such as food and water insecurity, social inequalities and vulnerability to other diseases such as malaria). The same applies to communities that are living in or near protected and other effectively conserved areas, where most of wildlife tourism takes place.
  • Although there is a growing debate around illegal wildlife trade and safety of wildlife markets, it is unlikely that the illegal trade in wildlife will diminish significantly in the short term, and this illegal trade will continue to pose serious risks to health. In addition, the severe global economic slowdown may result in budgets being diverted from biodiversity conservation and nature-based livelihood enhancement and diversification, as well as combatting illegal wildlife trade.

There is an urgent need to ensure that COVID-19 response and recovery will fully consider all vulnerabilities of rural communities, and to ensure that environmental and conservation gains and related climate mitigation and adaptation actions do not lose ground. UNDP responds to these unprecedented threats to nature and ecosystems and the risks they pose to people, economies and the well-being of society as a whole.


Summary of UNDP COVID-Nature Offer


Our response hinges of the three UN strategic lynchpins: Prepare, Respond and Recover, and aligned with the framework of UNDP’s Integrated Response to COVID-19. UNDP COVID-Nature offer is articulated around the three objectives: (i) Helping countries to prepare for and protect people from the pandemic and its impacts; (ii) respond during the outbreak; and (iii) recover from the economic and social impacts in the months and years to come, as well as to develop country and community capacity for preventing future zoonotic disease outbreaks and creating a resilient society.


This entails: supporting the ‘One health’ approach, by linking public health and environmental issues through: (i) management of disease outbreak and prevention with well-planned environmental management, though identifying high risk factors (co-vulnerabilities) for zoonotic disease transmission and mapping hotspots for integrated prevention and management of disease outbreaks and issues such as deforestation, illegal wildlife trade and harmful farming practices; (ii) facilitating greater collaboration across multiple sectors including health, agriculture, livestock and conservation and social development.


This entails working across multiple sectors to advance a whole-of government and whole-of-society response to strengthen efforts to slow the spread of the virus and provide social protection for those working at the frontline of conservation efforts, and other vulnerable groups. This will be achieved through: (i) supporting project partners and communities within our ongoing and emerging project domain to ensure that projects can adapt to COVID situations for greater impact; (ii) sustaining the livelihoods of vulnerable and at-risk communities (such as those dependent on revenues from nature-based tourism); (iii) minimising negative impacts on management of conservation areas and agro-ecological systems in buffer zones, community engagement and law enforcement, and safeguarding indigenous land rights; (iv) speed up deployment of digital and other novel technologies to strengthen environmental monitoring; (v) raise public awareness and knowledge of the health risks associated with over-exploitation of Nature, and the links between this and zoonotic diseases.


This entails supporting countries to assess social and economic impacts of the crisis on vulnerable and marginalized groups, and helping countries to recover and rebuild better, as part of broader efforts to accelerate progress towards achieving global biodiversity, climate and sustainable development goals and build longer-term resilience. Key elements of this the strategy will be to support: (i) Investment in nature and inclusive nature-based solutions as part of green stimulus packages, including exploration of debt-for-nature/climate swaps, biodiversity bond and other innovative mechanisms; and (iii) prevention of future zoonotic disease outbreaks and reduce their impacts by addressing root causes such as deforestation, illegal wildlife trade and consumption, unsustainable and harmful farming practices.



More details can be found in the full UNDP COVID-Nature offer document, which includes a summary of UNDP Green Commodities Programme's contribution to these efforts through our work in Food and Commodity Systems:

  • Addressing the root causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and entrenched rural poverty in commodity farming communities (More information here)
  • Developing systems and incentives for sustainable production of important commodities (Most recent example putting this into action, here)
  • Greening of the supply chain; increasing demands for sustainable commodities and producers’ ability to manage sustainable production (More information here)
  • Improving livelihoods, sustainability and resilience of farming communities and production landscapes (See here)

For more information, contact Midori Paxton, Head - Ecosystems and Biodiversity at UNDP, at [email protected].


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