Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Biodiversity loss hurts public health

Lyn Resurreccion in the Business Mirror (Philippines): The world’s rich biodiversity has been a critical source of medicines, but its continued loss has already begun to seriously affect human health, as seen in the occurrence of new infectious diseases, a Harvard-based expert said on Wednesday at the Asean Conference on Biodiversity 2009 here. Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a member of the faculty of Harvard Medical School and its Center for Health and Global Environment, said in his keynote address, “Just as nutrition, access to health care and clean water, biodiversity is a fundamental determinant of health.”

He added: “We use species as just one measure of biodiversity. But biodiversity is far greater than just a measure of species. It is the sum total of all varieties of life on earth, including all the genes, all the species, all the population of the species and ecosystem on earth. We use species as a measure of biodiversity, because we know them best, because we can identify them and people can relate to them. But as far as human health and biodiversity, species are essential. But ecosystems and ecology are absolutely critical in understanding biodiversity.”

He said the rate of extinction of species at present has not been seen since 65 million years ago. The rate of extinction may be faster due to climate change, he said, adding that by 2050 a third of the current species will be driven to extinction owing to climate change.

In explaining the importance of natural products as the source of medicines to maintain human health, he cited as example the coral reef of Singapore, which has an astounding 250 species or 20 percent of all coral species on earth. He said coral reefs may be home to 1 million species or living things. “Coral reefs’ living bounty is 284,300 sq km of the Earth’s surface, an area that is 100th or 1 percent of the ocean surface and would easily fit in the land area of the Philippines,” Bernstein said….

Photo by Lauretta Burke, World Resources Institute, 2007, taken in the Soufriere area of St. Lucia. Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

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