The World Health Organization (WHO) in its Health Synthesis Report has declared that 60% of the benefits provided by the global ecosystem is being used unsustainably or degraded, resulting in negative effects on the health of human beings. The benefits that are thus misused are clean air, fresh water, a relatively stable climate and the wildlife.
The speed at which the natural ecosystem has been changing has been particularly fast in the past 50 years, according to the WHO Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook. Even though this has resulted in economic development, this has not been even across the world. The degradation of the ecosystem is expected to get worse in another 50 years.
There are poor populations who directly depend upon the natural ecosystems for meeting their basic needs. The Health Synthesis Report has emphasized that ecosystem services are important for sustaining good health and preventing the outbreak of diseases. Several dangerous diseases that afflict human beings can be traced to the animal kingdom, and human health may be affected by the changes in the populations and habitats of animals which are reservoirs of diseases.
The Nipah virus which infected human beings through pigs in Malaysia is reported to be due to forest clearance activities in Indonesia, driving the carrier bats to the neighbouring country. The SARS disease is also being attributed to the degradation of the ecosystem.
Intensive livestock production, in spite of its benefits has also resulted in new diseases emerging. Mosquitoes, ticks and midges are also reported to have changed their disease transmission patterns due to climate-induced habitat changes and forest clearance.
Disasters like landslides and floods are linked to deforestation. Some of the regions that face the greatest danger from the changes in the ecosystems are some parts of South and Southeast Asia, parts of Latin America, Central Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The WHO report has revealed that the degradation of the agro-ecosystems and fisheries has resulted in 800 million people across the world being affected by malnutrition.
As many as 3.2 million people die every year due to infectious waterborne diseases, while more than 1 billion people do not have access to safe water. Indoor air pollution like charcoal burning is responsible for 3% of the disease burden of the world, mostly in the form of respiratory diseases. Solid fuels are used by much of the world's population for cooking, which is also increasingly contributing towards deforestation.
Adverse impacts on the human health are being produced by activities like climate regulation, food-producing systems and freshwater sources. The good health of the ecosystem also contributes towards good human health, and this is all the more reason to protect it.