Environmental Degradation Leads to Public Health Crises

According to a new study, environmental degradation not only hurts the environment and people’s livelihoods but public health as well leading to sickness, disabilities, and even death. Read more below to find out what the impacts are, who are most affected, and what this study hopes to achieve.

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Malagasy villagers walking in a rice field. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com

Malagasy villagers walking in a rice field. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com 

A “systematic and comprehensive” approach is needed to understand the impact of human behavior on the world’s public health, according to a new report. Written by the Heal (Health & Ecosystems Analysis of Linkages) consortium, the study highlights multiple examples of the impact on human health from environmental degradation, including sickness, death and even childhood reductions in IQ. 

For example, the report cited that smoke from fires used to clear rainforests in Indonesia has been linked to a rise in cardiopulmonary disease in Singapore. Other examples include the destruction of coastal barrier systems like coral reefs and wetlands, which currently protect around one third of humanity (those living within 100km of the ocean) from rising sea levels. Meanwhile, as biodiversity and natural habitats decline, local access to wild meat falls as well. Lack of protein increases the chances of iron deficiency anemia, a condition that can hinder the learning potential of children as well as their physical ability. 

Co-author of the report Samuel Myers told mongabay.com that “more then anything else the point of this papers is that most of these relationships remain poorly characterized and we worry as much about the surprises, like food’s nutritional value falling with rising C02, as the relationships that we already understand. ” 

The report also examines the demographics most likely to be affected. Myers, with the Harvard University of Public Health, explained what he describes as an “environmental justice dimension.” 

Pilgrims waiting to enter a temple. Photo by Nancy Butler / mongabay.com
Pilgrims waiting to enter a temple in India. Photo by Nancy Butler / mongabay.com 

“The impacts of both climate change and other types of environmental change are likely to be experienced disproportionally by the poor and by future generations whereas many of the benefits associated with these changes accrue to the wealthier and to current populations,” he notes. 

Another aim of the report is to encourage a system in which lawmakers have access to better information to pass meaningful legislation. Citing examples like the Clean Air and Clean Water Act, (two US laws aimed at improving public health). Myers hopes to provide data that could help politicians understand the consequences of ecological damage, as well as empowering those working for a healthier environment. 

“As these relationships are better understood and quantified, it will be possible for policy makers to anticipate the public health implications of the decisions they are making,” he says.