zaman8_ASIF HASSANAFP via Getty Images_pakistancattlefarming Asif Hassan/AFP via Getty Images

Tackling Pandemics at Their Root

Lax or non-existent regulation of animal markets is what started the COVID-19 crisis. If we don’t act on that lesson quickly, we may very soon have to learn it again.

BOSTON – Cattle colonies and “wet markets” for live animals are not unique to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the SARS-CoV-2 virus most likely originated. They exist all around the world. And given their largely unregulated nature, the emergence of the next major infectious pathogen is only a matter of time.

For example, you might not expect to find the world’s largest buffalo colony in Karachi, Pakistan, a metropolis with 14 million inhabitants. And with about 400,000 animals packed tightly in an area of six square kilometers (2.3 square miles), the Bhains Colony is certainly an incongruous sight. Yet, the colony (named after the Urdu word for buffalo) has survived and thrived for more than a half-century, and today has over 1,500 farms.

The colony is integral to Karachi’s milk and meat supplies, and a major source of employment for the local community. It has been the subject of numerous studies of local empowerment, entrepreneurship, and supply chains, including some funded by international aid agencies.