CI’s approach to conserving biodiversity targets biodiversity hotspots – areas of the biologically richest places, with the highest numbers of species found nowhere else on Earth. Hotspots, by definition, face extreme threats and have already lost at least 70 percent of their original vegetation.
The hotspots are home to just under two billion people – about one-third of our global population. Many of these inhabitants are poor, living on less than one dollar a day and directly depending on the products of healthy ecosystems to meet basic human needs, such as shelter, food, clothing and medicine.
In addition, they represent considerable demand on resources from areas of critical importance to biodiversity conservation.
Our Changing Planet
One of the major conclusions of the 2005 United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was that during the past half century, humans have changed our planet’s ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than any comparable period in history.
The increasing media and political attention to the assessment’s findings have highlighted the potentially devastating impacts that environmental problems can cause, such as climate change, global warming, tsunamis and other natural disasters.
Due in large part to the assessment, the conversation in the conservation community around healthy people and healthy ecosystems has evolved, with an increased focus on empirically proving the links between improving human health and the impacts on biodiversity.
A great deal of the pressures on biodiversity comes from large, poor families. The search for fuelwood, water and other basic needs creates the direct threats that drive environmental change. In poor countries, it is women and children who are usually in charge of collecting these resources and are therefore the agents of change.
IN DEPTH: Learn more about the link between gender and conservation.
Challenges & Solutions for Human Health
Deteriorating environmental conditions associated with expanding agriculture or deforestation can pose threats to human health, especially for women, and infants less than five years of age.
Ninety percent of the wastewater in the developing world is released into local watersheds, and more than three million people per year, mostly children, are killed by preventable waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhea and gastroenteritis. Diarrhea is still a leading cause of infant mortality and morbidity in areas where we work.
In Madagascar, for example, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) reports that, in 2002, 30 percent of population was using inadequate sanitation.
Dramatic changes in forest cover and land use have implications for human wellbeing because there are direct linkages between ecosystems and the essential services they provide, including provisioning services (e.g., food, fresh water, fuel); regulating services (e.g., climate regulation, flood regulation, disease regulation); and cultural services (e.g., spiritual, recreational, educational). These changes have historically led to irreversible loss of biodiversity.
One way in which CI is trying to reduce the human footprint on biodiversity is to implement community-based programs in key biodiversity areas to improve human and ecosystem health at the same time.
Recognizing the critical links between human health and biodiversity conservation, in 2002, CI began implementing the Healthy Families, Healthy Forests program, a USAID-supported initiative in three countries with highly threatened biodiversity. The purpose of this project was to improve conservation and use of health services in areas where high population growth threatens biodiversity and endangered species.
The conservation-based rationale for integrating health services into community-based efforts is designed to increase community participation and ownership over conservation in the long term.
By improving the health of the mothers, fathers and children in the target areas, people can be more productive, take advantage of economic opportunities such as microcredit, and have a range of options to satisfy basic human needs such as food, shelter and income.
As demonstrated by many field-based health and conservation projects, health services also open the door to collaboration on activities such as environmental training and livelihood diversification.