WHO releases "Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Health Synthesis"

The World Health Organization will release the sixth synthesis report from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment "Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Health Synthesis" at a press briefing held in conjunction with the Scientific Conference on Asia Pacific Environmental Health -- Significant, Emerging and Current Challenges, Research and Capacity Building Opportunities, Collaborative Response Needs organized by the Thai Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Chulabhorn Research Institute.

"Over the past 50 years, humans have changed natural ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period in human history," said Dr Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization. "This transformation of the planet has contributed to substantial net gains in health, well-being and economic development. But not all regions and groups of people have benefited equally from this process."

Approximately 60% of the benefits that the global ecosystem provides to support life on Earth (such as fresh water, clean air and a relatively stable climate) are being degraded or used unsustainably. In the report, scientists warn that harmful consequences of this degradation to human health are already being felt and could grow significantly worse over the next 50 years.

"The benefits should be acknowledged," said Dr Carlos Corvalan, WHO's lead expert and co-author of the report. "But these benefits are not enjoyed equally. And the risks we face now from ecosystem degradation, particularly among poor populations directly dependent on natural ecosystems for many basic needs, has to be addressed."

"Human health is strongly linked to the health of ecosystems, which meet many of our most critical needs," said Maria Neira, Director of WHO's Department for the Protection of the Human Environment. "We in the health sector need to take heed of this in our own planning, and together with other sectors, ensure that we obtain the greatest benefit from ecosystems for good health - now and in the future."

Dr Maria Neira; Professor Tony McMichael, Director at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australia National University, and a co-author of the report, and Dr Carlos Corvalan will talk about the main findings in the report during the briefing and later present them in an afternoon session on "Ecosystem Change and Human Health" at the Chulabhorn Research Institute (CRI) Convention Centre.

Human Health Under Threat from Ecosystem Degradation WHO Media Release [pdf, 35 KB]

Ecosystems and Human Health: Some Findings from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2-page Summary of Health Synthesis [pdf, 68 KB]


Key findings highlighted in the report are:

  • FOOD - In poor countries, especially in rural areas, the health of human populations is highly dependent upon the services of local productive ecosystems for food.
  • FRESH WATER - Over 1 billion people lack access to safe water supplies, while 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation. This has led to widespread microbial contamination of drinking water.
  • FUEL - The generation of power causes a range of health impacts.
  • POLLUTANTS - Humans are at risk from inorganic chemicals and from persistent organic pollutants in food and water.
  • CULTURE - Cultural services may be less tangible than material services, but are nonetheless highly valued by people in all societies.
  • CLIMATE REGULATION - Each of the ecosystem services referred to in the previous sections is sensitive to climate, and will therefore be affected by anthropogenic climate change.
  • 2 routes to avoiding disease and injury caused by ecosystem disruption:
    1. To prevent, limit or manage environmental damage;
    2. To make whatever changes that will protect individuals and populations from the consequences of ecosystem change.
    1. Measures to ensure ecological sustainability would safeguard ecosystem services and therefore benefit health in the long-term.
    2. The ongoing degradation of ecosystem services is a significant barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Involving participants from Ministries of Environment, Health, Development and Planning, international organizations, public and private sectors, research institutions, and academia, from ASEAN and East Asian Countries as well as international experts of renown, the Conference will identify and discuss significant and emerging environmental health issues that are current, emerging and expected in the horizon to provide an early alert.

Five additional MA synthesis reports were prepared to facilitate access to information by other audiences: general overview; UNCCD (desertification); CBD (biological diversity); Ramsar Convention (wetlands); and business. Each MA sub-global assessment also will produce additional reports to meet the needs of its own audience. The full technical assessment reports of the four MA working groups will be published in early 2006 by Island Press.

© 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment