Decline of world’s ecosystems poses serious threat to human health, WHO says

The decline of the world's ecosystems poses a serious threat to human health, and governments should do more to reduce the impact of economic development on the environment, the World Health Organization said Friday. Rapid industrialization, overfishing, overgrazing and deforestation have destroyed sources of safe drinking water and are linked to thousands of deaths each year, the U.N. health agency said in a report entitled "Ecosystems and Human Well-Being."

"What we're saying is that economic development is a good thing," said Tony McMichael, who co-authored the report. "But if it means that we will degrade the biosphere's infrastructure, then actually we're going to undermine our efforts."

The WHO said policy-makers should incorporate the impact of climate change, air pollution and other environmental hazards in their evaluation of development policies, including major development projects and trade agreements. The report added that ecosystems will face increasing pressure from rising demand for energy and food as the world's population rises from 6.5 billion now to an expected 9 billion by 2050.

"We're going to continue to put a lot of pressure on the system, which is already showing a lot of strain," McMichael told reporters in Bangkok. "We're on the pathway to posing a serious threat to the foundation of human health and in many parts of the world, human survival."

Oceans are projected to become more acidic while natural buffer zones like mangroves and sand dunes will further decline, the report said. The future looks grim unless the world embraces sustainable development, it said. "The health sector bears responsibility for informing decision makers about the health effects of ecosystem changes," the report said, reports the AP. I.L.

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