Cohab 2008


Second International Conference on Health and Biodiversity

Flooding in Vietnam ©


Health issues are not a traditional area of work for JNCC but biodiversity is increasingly seen as an important factor in maintaining health and well-being in both developed and least developed countries. The links between ecosystems and health were discussed at Cohab 2008, in Galway, Ireland, attended by JNCC’s Head of Sustainability Advice, Diana Mortimer.


The conference focused on the links between ecosystems and health through several three main themes:

  • disaster prevention, relief and recovery;
  • food resources, diet and nutrition; and
  • emerging infectious diseases.


The relationship between the findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment1 which assessed the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being, and the attainment of the eight Millennium Development Goals2, which range from halving extreme poverty to ensuring environmental sustainability, was explored. Without fully functioning ecosystems and their biodiversity there is little hope in realizing the eight goals. For example, ecosystems promote health by filtering toxic substances from air, water and soil, and by breaking down waste and recycling nutrients.  In addition to enhancing ecosystem services, biodiver­sity also provides a unique and irreplaceable source of medicines on which 80% of the world’s population rely.


Presentations on food resources, diet and nutrition highlighted projects showing how access to diverse food stuffs affected health. Perceived ‘development’ had led to poorer diet and what could be done to address this issue. For example in Kenya there had been a shift away from growing indigenous green vegetables towards production of cabbages. Cabbages were seen as the kings of the vegetable world, available in new Kenyan supermarkets and representing a progressive diet. However, growing cabbages requires more water and the use of pesticides and fertilizer; additionally they are nutritionally poor. To switch people back to their traditional foods the team worked with supermarkets to stock the local varieties of vegetables. As the poorer people of the area saw the wealthier people eating traditional vegetables, they too were encouraged to return to them. Such a turnaround helps not only the environment but also the people who grow and eat vegetables.


JNCC was represented in a panel discussion entitled Living within our means: ecosystems, economies and community in 21st  century Europe, alongside representatives from the European Commission and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. The panel answered questions including ‘do we need a new way to understand progress?’, ‘how can we realistically and effectively influence consumer demand so we live within our means?’, and ‘what additional measures can be taken to increase certification of natural resources?’


The conference demonstrated that JNCC can assist the health community through many strands of work. Application of the ecosystem approach has shown how taking a holistic approach to project planning ensures people, the environment and the economy are all taken into account. Recent JNCC  advice to the European Commission on the setting of sustainability criteria for biofuels can ensure people in least developed countries have access to food, medicines, fuel and cultural services provided by the natural environment that might otherwise be lost.





Diana Mortimer

Head of Sustainability Advice

Tel:  +44 (0) 1733 866857