The multitude of ways in which the natural environment and human health are inextricably linked have been outlined in a report we have written for the WHO Europe region as part of our WHO Collaborating Centre on Natural Environments and Health. It is designed to help individuals and organisations across the 53 member states of the WHO European Region make evidence-based decisions.
Requested by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, and authored by a team of us at ECEHH, the review is entitled ‘Nature, Biodiversity and Health: an Overview of interconnections and priorities’. The document is largely aimed at people who make decisions in the health and environment sectors, yet may not have extensive experience of considering the links between the two areas.
The briefing encompasses three core areas:
- Nature keeps us alive and healthy: nature can purify water, regulate air quality, and enable food production on land and in seas. It is a resource for traditional medicines and provides opportunities for new pharmaceutical discovery. The natural environment provides inspiration and settings for healthy human behaviours and social contact.
- The environment protects our health: while nature itself can present health risks, intact, functioning and resilient nature can help to mitigate extreme events and effects of natural disasters, and limit our exposure to patThe report hogens.
- Environmental change in the context of social change threatens our health: processes such as climate change and loss of biodiversity are increasing extreme events, threatening ecological collapse and the failure of food systems. It is also resulting in conflict and displacement of people with consequent health impacts.
The report concludes with a call to action and identifies a number of strategies to better recognise and act on the interconnections:
- consider and communicate internally and externally the links between nature, biodiversity and health;
- prepare long-term strategies (at a minimum 25–50 years) for sustainable management of the natural environment, with explicit consideration of health impacts;
- incorporate nature, environment and health considerations into all policies at both national and local levels as standard (for example, applying One Health or Planetary Health approaches);
- seek no-regret and nature-based solutions to societal, economic, environmental and climate challenges; and
- compile and utilize environmental data and share insights on good practice
Benedict W Wheeler, Becca Lovell, Lora E Fleming and Emma Bland (WHO Collaborating Centre on Natural Environments and Health, European Centre for Environment and Human Health); Matthias Braubach and Sinaia Netanyahu (WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, Bonn). Nature, biodiversity and health: an overview of interconnections. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO