UN Initiative Links Biodiversity, Traditional Knowledge to Foster Better Community Health

A diverse coalition of UN agencies, international organizations and NGOs launched an international Biodiversity and Community Health initiative at the 11th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 11) that took place in Hyderabad, India this past October 8-19. Led by the UN University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS), participating organizations “collectively called for the need to put biodiversity and health on the CBD agenda.”

“The new partnership envisages a global network of centers of excellence addressing these issues of health, traditional knowledge, biodiversity and community well-being,” according to a press release. In realizing this aim, the partners aim to conduct research that examines the “flows of biophysical resources to the food and health sectors; enable participatory assessment of biological resource use and health practices; and engage with relevant policy bodies and instruments.”

Nature protects if she is protected

The Biodiversity and Community Health Initiative draws on the UNU-IAS educational/research institute’s strengths in both biodiversity and traditional knowledge. Also lending their respective strengths and resources to the initiative are the CDB, the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), COMPAring and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS), the UN Development Programme’s Equator Initiative, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Medicinal Plant Specialist Group, the National Biodiversity Authority of India and Biodiversity International.

Human health and livelihoods are inextricably linked with those of ecosystems and biodiversity, as COP 11’s motto–”Nature protects if she is protected”–succinctly expresses, representatives of the participating organizations emphasized. “UNDP takes biodiversity conservation seriously precisely because of the unambiguous relationship between healthy ecosystems and healthy people,” UNDP’s Eileen de Ravin stated in a press release.

Moreover, she added, biodiversity conservation is integral to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, as well as the UN’s post-2015 universal sustainable development goals, which, agreed to in principle at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), are now in the process of being finalized.

Signing on to achieve the MDGs at the turn of the new millennium, UN member governments have pledged by 2015 to eradicate hunger and poverty, achieve universal primary education, substantially improve gender equality, child and maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS and achieve environmental sustainability.

Linking biodiversity, traditional knowledge and community health

During the initiative’s COP 11 launch event, Brazil’s Lourdes Cardozo Laureano, a winner of UNDP’s Equator Initiative Award, and Ecuador Kichwa Indian community member Yolanda Teran presented illustrative case studies where community health care service providers are present and active in remote areas where official government health services are absent, cases that demonstrate the “vitality of biodiversity to indigenous community well-being.” In addition, a presentation by UNEP’s Mohammed Sassey focused on “biodiversity and land use’s effects on nutrition and food security, which link directly to human health.”

Officials from CBD COP 11 host country India expressed support for the new initiative, pointing out that an estimated 70 percent of the country’s population depend on medicinal plants for their health and well-being. FRLHT sees the Biodiversity and Community Health initiative as a means of building on and extending the reach of its work the relevance of medicinal systems and theories in Indian local health traditions, while TRAFFIC medicinal plant specialist Anastasia Timoshyna noted and elaborated on “significant increases in global trade of medicinal plants, which influence both the survival of such species as well as livelihoods of people dependent on the plants.”

Pointing out the linkages between traditional knowledge, biodiversity and community health, CBD representative for the Executive Secretary Braulio F. de Souza Dias noted the need to “further strengthen collaborative work with individual and local communities as key partners, “guardians of an unmatched repository of local knowledge and experience regarding sustainable management of biodiversity.”

*Photo credit: Marc Becker’s Blog

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email: huginn.muggin@gmail.com

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