20 Oct 2010

Position statement on health and biodiversity

Posted by cohabnet

The following is the text of a position statement by the COHAB Initiative Secretariat which we have circulated at CBD COP10 this week. It deals specifically with the issue of co-operation with the World Health Organisation, COHAB and other organisations, which was mandated under CBD COP9 Decision IX/27:

Position Statement of the COHAB Initiative Secretariat with regard to the draft text open for discussion in relation to Item 4.9(a),
Cooperation with other conventions and international organizations and initiatives, engagement of stakeholders, including business and biodiversity, cities and biodiversity, and South/South cooperation

In 1998 in Geneva, the World Health Assembly adopted the World Health Declaration, outlining a global “Health for All” policy for the 21st Century. This was a global commitment to strengthen health systems towards implementing the ideal of universal primary healthcare, and a commitment to address emerging health threats supported by appropriate levels of investment. Since then, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a rapidly increasing body of scientific data, show that the continuing degradation of global ecosystems and associated loss of biodiversity are significantly increasing risks to human health on many fronts, from emerging infectious diseases to deepening nutrition insecurity; loss of medicinal resources; increased risk of natural disaster; weakening of resources required for disaster relief and recovery; loss of genetic resources of value to medical science; loss of community “sense of place”; greater social dislocation and mental illness. Biodiversity loss threatens the realisation of the basic human rights to security and a healthful life, and it represents a direct challenge to the delivery of “Health for All”. In light of these growing concerns, we must ask the questions: why is the health sector not heavily involved in biodiversity discussions at the global level, or more widely active in development of biodiversity strategies at local and national levels? And why does the investment of resources to address anticipated future health crises not include support for conservation of critical ecosystem goods and services?

The World Health Organisation has recognised the value of biodiversity to health and well-being. WHO was involved in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, calls for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity used in traditional medicine, and monitors animal health as a sentinel of potential human health risks. However, this has not translated into co-operation on health and biodiversity at strategic policy levels, and in many countries public awareness of the health benefits of biodiversity is low. These are problems which prevent effective mainstreaming of biodiversity into a sector which sits at the core of national policies and planning, and limits support for practical partnerships on the ground. But there are many areas where both sectors can come together and share resources to work towards similar goals. Perhaps the most important area for co-operation is climate change. The WHO recognises climate change as a direct threat to human health. Many of the anticipated health threats – including new pest and disease outbreaks and certain disaster risks – will come about through climate change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems. Partnership between the health and biodiversity communities on these issues would seem logical and necessary, yet there is no programme of work in place for co-operation between CBD and WHO on this key issue. The situation is broadly similar for issues of water, nutrition, wildlife health and traditional medicinal knowledge.

Sustainable health systems are a requirement for sustainable development, but cannot be achieved unless we halt the loss of biodiversity. These issues are of great importance to the revised strategy for the Convention which is before this Conference of Parties here in Nagoya, with regard to awareness, with regard to national accounts, with regard to economic impacts, and in particular to indicators and investment in conservation actions. Furthermore, the negotiations relating to the protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing bear particular significance for the issue of neglected tropical diseases, which affect a disproportionate number of indigenous and local communities, and will require greater involvement with the WHO.

The Secretariat to the CBD, UNDP, FAO, UNESCO and other IGOs as well as many NGOs have been active in raising the issue of health at previous COPs and in reaching out to the health sector. This includes the work carried out by the Secretariat in partnership with the COHAB Initiative on the International Conferences on Health and Biodiversity, the publication of the book “Sustaining Life” with the Centre for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, and work carried out by the Secretariat and the COHAB Initiative in response to COP9 decision IX/27 subsection 9. Many COHAB Partners around the world are also active in linking health and biodiversity in research and at community level. However, the biodiversity crisis is still not on the agenda of global health policy. Specific action is needed to bring biodiversity into the realm of the World Health Assembly, which is the governing body of the World Health Organisation, and to foster practical partnerships to mainstream the new strategic plan of the CBD into the strategies of health sector.

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3 Responses to “Position statement on health and biodiversity”

  1. How wonderful to hear from the COHAB Secretariat!

    I wish you all the best as you work with your characteristic passion, intelligence, and grace to move the health and biodiversity agenda forward!

    I look forward to your upcoming posts.

    All my best,


    Maya Gislason

  2. The magnitude of biodiversity loss can be well understood, only when the human race understands that it will be the first to go, should there be a cataclysmic event. Nature can be there without humans but humans cannot exist sans environment. Secondly, the living resources are also finite. Sustainability stems from conservation and optimal use. Quality of human life also is decided by the environment only. A long term policy to educate the generations to come, about the “E” factor to sustain life should be the top-prioity agenda in any international treaty, should we talk about sustainability. Politics will change, from time to time and place to place but principles should be enshrined. Polluter pays principle also is corrupt, because by paying the polluter gets the right to abuse. It has no moral or ethical value. Development is uni-directional like aging. Changing technologies alone will not be enough. Yesterday’s luxuries have become today’s necessities and hence asking the mankind to revisit civilisation of the previous centuries will have no listeners. Environmental policy of an international body should be enforceable in true spirit in all the countries, but putting it into practice will be a herculean task. The only ray of hope is, there is “time” still left to learn. The larger nations with more land mass should concentrate on scientific agriculture than space research, land-locked countries should go for a borderless cultivation, island nations should fish for the world, rivers should be considered arteries and veins sans border disputes, undisputable newer technologies should be ushered into agriculture to convert fallow lands to cultivable farms, social forestry principles should be religiously followed and the cost of life for humans should be comparable whether one lives in a developed country or underdeveloped nation. That way, I feel, COHAB is doing a wonderful duty.



  3. If Health is Wealth, why should we lose it? If ecosystems are not well maintained , how can one expect healthy life? It is rather unfortunate that biodiversity issues are not discussed in all seriousness in the health sector. I find most of the discussions “academic” than as practicable protocols. Which country will consider Expenditure on environment as Investment? Is it not necessary that we talk of the immediate one-off decisions for tackling immediate issues, a well decided plan for the next two decades and a long term policy to implement sustainability principle in the Meet? Sectorwise focussing is the need of the day. Food and health can never be delinked. Nagoya guiding factor should envisage protection of environment at the local level, by people, as an integral part of their day-to-day life tied to the religion, custom, civil liberties and self dignity.