Health and well-being

Sustainable Development Goal 3

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Overview

Health is a basic human right, and is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as not simply being free from illness, but in a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Biodiversity is an important foundation for human health. It underpins the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend for our food and fresh water, aids in regulating climate, floods and disease, is a source of pharmaceuticals, provides recreational benefits and offers aesthetic and spiritual enrichment.

While the inter-linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem services and human health are complex, interdisciplinary research is aiming to develop a more thorough understanding of these essential relationships.

While all the Aichi Biodiversity Targets have potential linkages to human health and well-being, Target 14 focuses explicitly on ecosystem services that contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being. Actions that support implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets provide opportunities to improve both global human health and ecosystem health.

Challenges

The current rate of biodiversity loss may have grave consequences and hamper efforts to meet a range of sustainable development goals, including Goal 3 related to health, by increasing the vulnerability of the poor and reducing the options for sustainable development.

For example, access to wild species that provide sources of food in terrestrial, marine, and freshwater systems is critical to human nutrition, and global declines will present major public health challenges for resource-dependent human populations, particularly in low and middle income countries.

The use of chemical inputs, particularly pesticides, has had severe negative consequences for wildlife, human health and agricultural biodiversity. While chemical control of vectors of disease such as malaria has generated health benefits, the use of some pesticides -- especially in agriculture -- has led to serious environmental pollution, affected human health (25 million people per year suffer acute pesticide poisoning in developing countries) and caused the death of many non-target animals and plants.

Making agriculture more efficient through improved targeting and efficiency of fertilizer, pesticide and water use helps reduce post-harvest losses, minimizes food waste and promotes sustainable diets.

Our fundamental reliance on biodiversity and ecosystem services offers significant opportunities to more consistently recognize and manage biodiversity’s services for human health and to contribute to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use at all scales. We can improve our understanding of the complex linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem services and human health as well as promote co-benefits through joint policies and implementation activities by strengthening collaboration with the health sector and better integrating biodiversity into national health strategies and programmes and health into national biodiversity strategies and activities. This will help build a post-2015 agenda where a healthy biosphere is recognised as a precondition for human health and prosperity.

Messages

  • Biodiversity underpins ecosystem functioning and the provision of goods and services essential to human health and well-being. Health is directly affected by a deteriorating environment and declining biodiversity.
  • Access to clean water is fundamental to human health and a priority for sustainable development. Yet, almost 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking-water and 2 million annual deaths are attributable to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. Biodiversity and ecosystems play a major role in regulating the quantity and quality of water supply, but are themselves degraded by pollution.
  • Malnutrition is the single largest contributor to the global burden of disease affecting citizens of every country in the world from the least developed to the most. Two billion people are estimated to be deficient in one or more micronutrients. Biodiversity has an important role in improving nutrition.
  • The consumption of poor-quality processed foods, together with low physical activity, has contributed to the dramatic emergence of obesity and associated chronic diseases. Nearly 1.5 billion people are overweight and over 500 million are obese.
  • Infectious diseases cause over one billion human infections per year, with millions of deaths each year globally, as well as affecting plants and animals, which may pose threats to agriculture and water supplies with additional impacts on human health.
  • Many of the diseases that afflicted or killed most people a century ago are today largely curable or preventable thanks to medicines, many of which are derived from biodiversity. Yet, in many instances, the very organisms that have given humanity vital insights into human diseases, or are the sources of human medications, are endangered because of human actions.
  • Millions of people rely on traditional medicine which is dependent on biological resources, well functioning ecosystems and on the associated context specific knowledge of local health practitioners. In local communities, health practitioners trained in traditional and non–formal systems of medicine often play a crucial role in linking health-related knowledge to affordable healthcare delivery.