Why does biodiversity matter to human health and economic well-being?

There is significant evidence to show how biodiversity positively impacts health and economic security. Conservation can no longer be put on the back burner.
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As most parts of India are facing a severe heatwave with the temperatures soaring massively and another wave of COVID-19 taking off slowly, health and wellbeing take a centre-stage once again. While, there is no silver bullet to address this, the role of biodiversity, conservation and restoration as a key to sustainable and holistic response has come to the forefront. There has been significant evidence to show that biodiversity and ecosystems’ functioning underpins health and economic security. The rapid degradation of nature over the last few decades can no longer be put on the back burner. 

Ecosystems with its biodiversity provide several life-supporting services such as food, climate regulation, raw material supply, medicines, formation of fertile soil, value for recreation and clean water. Together they are called ecosystem services. In fact, ecosystem services are critical for human sustenance, development, and growth. This is highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s risk perception survey 2021-22 which lists climate action failure, extreme weather, and biodiversity loss as the top three risks for the economy. This has been consistent for the past few years, for example, the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Report reiterated that biodiversity is critically important to human health, safety, and economic prosperity.

Shinrin-yoku (forest-bathing) is a Japanese concept developed in the 1980s where people spend time in the forest for improving physiological and psychological health.

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Cardinale, in 2012, concluded in his paper that diverse ecological communities tend to be more productive because they contain key species that have a large influence on productivity and wellbeing. Thus, loss of biodiversity increases the risks to stability. Shinrin-yoku (forest-bathing) is a Japanese concept developed in the 1980s where people spend time in the forest for improving physiological and psychological health.

Furuyashiki investigated this concept and underlined that “a session of approximately two hours of forest bathing as part of a 1-day outing in a forest environment can lead to improvements in physiological and psychological health in people of working age, as demonstrated by the decrease in blood pressure and the alleviation of negative psychological parameters after forest bathing”.

There are several papers now published on the health benefits of just being in the forest. Another study by Minrad found that “the increases in outbreaks of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases from 1990 to 2016 are linked with deforestation, mostly in tropical countries.” In India, certain skin diseases like cutaneous leishmaniosis have been linked to climate change. Other vector-borne diseases like malaria, lymphatic filariasis, Japanese encephalitis, chikungunya, and dengue are on rise and are recorded in areas where they were not common such as the Himalayan region. 

 

Nature Risk Rising report by the World Economic Forum says that more than half of the world’s GDP (USD 44 trillion) is highly or moderately dependent on nature. The report states that 63 percent of India’s industry has high to medium dependency on nature.

So, when business activities lead to the loss of biodiversity it directly impacts profitability, increases financial risks, hurts consumer sentiments and causes litigation risks that may lead to a bad reputation for businesses.  

The industry need not be at loggerheads with biodiversity, in fact, biodiversity conservation can lead to significant business opportunities. For example, Costa Rica which is at the forefront of conservation action is taking path-breaking steps to decarbonize the country by 2050. They have made policy changes, more than 98 per cent of its energy is renewable, forest cover now stands at more than 53 per cent after painstaking work to reverse decades of deforestation. India has also recognised the importance of biodiversity conservation and its benefits to society, therefore it committed to restoring 26 million hectares of degraded forests and land in 2019 (COP 14). 

The coming decade will be critical for India’s growth aspirations given its population size and dwindling environment with rising air pollution and deforestation. Therefore, it is imperative to conserve and restore ecosystems and recover biodiversity to ensure sustainable development and greater social benefit for all. 

Edited by Diya Koshy George

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