Linking biodiversity and community health: New initiative launched at CBD COP11
Bringing together its strengths in biodiversity and traditional knowledge, the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) launched an international initiative with other UN agencies, international organizations and NGOs at the recent eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP11), which took place in Hyderabad, India from 8 to 19 October.
At a COP11 side event held on 9 October, members of the new initiative on Biodiversity and Community Health introduced their respective areas of expertise, experiences and contributions to the partnership, and collectively called for the need to put biodiversity and health on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) agenda. The new partners include UNU-IAS, Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), COMPAring and Supporting endogenous development (COMPAS), United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Equator Initiative, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), CBD, TRAFFIC, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Medicinal Plant Specialist Group, the National Biodiversity Authority of India, and Bioversity International.
As succinctly captured by the COP11 motto—“Nature is protected if she is protected”— well-being and livelihoods are inextricably linked to biodiversity and ecosystems. UNDP representative Eileen de Ravin stressed this linkage, stating that “UNDP takes biodiversity conservation seriously precisely because of the unambiguous relationship between healthy ecosystems and healthy people”. She further advocated the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, asserting its vitality to delivering all of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as well as the post-MDG framework. During the event, UNDP’s Equator Initiative award winner Lourdes Cardozo Laureano of Brazil and member of the Kichwa Indian community in Ecuador Yolanda Teran presented on-the-ground cases of community health care providers catering to areas where formal health facilities are absent, as well as the vitality of biodiversity to indigenous community well-being. Mohammed Sassey of UNEP also addressed biodiversity and land use’s effects on nutrition and food security, which link directly to human health.
Representatives from the Government of India also participated in the event, voicing support for the initiative. Estimating that 70 per cent of the country’s population depended on medicinal plants, Indian officials expressed special interest in the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants. In line with their concerns, Anastasia Timoshyna, a medicinal plant specialist from TRAFFIC, presented on the significant increases in global trade of medicinal plants, which influence both the survival of such species as well as the livelihoods of people dependant on the plants.
Considering the importance of medicinal plants to community well-being, Padma Venkat, speaking on behalf of FRLHT, spoke of Indian experiences from which partners could learn. As an institution that has looked at contemporary relevance of medicinal systems and theories in the Indian local health traditions, FRLHT can offer developed methodology of medicinal plant conservation and assessment of community knowledge. Speaking on behalf of the Executive Secretary of the CBD, Braulio F. de Souza Dias, a CBD representative also recognized the linkages between traditional knowledge, biodiversity and community health, calling the need to “further strengthen collaborative work with individual and local communities as key partners” who have experience and wisdom on sustainable management of biodiversity.
UNU-IAS Director and UNU Vice-Rector Prof. Govindan Parayil also affirmed the “the need and potential for strengthening traditional understanding and practices related to health at the community level”. UNU-IAS has been contributing to policy-relevant inputs related to equity and sustainable use of biological resources, especially through its Biodiplomacy Initiative, International Satoyama Initiative, and the Traditional Knowledge Initiative.
The new partnership envisages a global network of centres of excellence addressing these issues of health, traditional knowledge, biodiversity and community well-being. To this end, the partners plan to undertake research examining the flows of biophysical resources to the food and health sectors; enable participatory assessment of biological resource use and health practices; and engagement with relevant policy bodies and instruments.