The integral link between biodiversity and ecosystem services and health is increasingly being recognized in multilateral policy arenas. This is very well reflected in the recent decisions of COP and SBSTTA of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Further elaboration of these links in terms of regulation of various ecosystem services such as clean air, water or of infectious diseases; contribution of biodiversity for nutritional and health security through local flora and fauna and associated traditional knowledge; increasing research on natural products and bio-prospecting; or recreational and spiritual dimensions of ecosystems and their intersectoral linkages through approaches like One Health are also better recognized through newly emerging research data.
ASEAN region is going through a rapid transition in terms of economic development and rapid environmental change with immediate potential impacts on health and nutritional security in the region. The causal relationship of the transition in biodiversity and newly emerging epidemics, increasing lifestyle disorders, and obesity in South East Asia are well established.
As a timely intervention, significant focus was given to the theme of Biodiversity and Health at the ASEAN Conference on Biodiversity jointly organized by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, ASEAN Secretariat, and the Royal Thai Government from 15-17 Feb, 2016 in Bangkok, in collaboration with UNU. Three parallel sessions on the third day of the conference were facilitated by the the United Nations University- Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) and UNU-IIGH. These sessions focused on a state of the art appraisal of biodiversity and health links.
In a plenary session, Dr. Colin Butler focused on the social history of the conceptualization of biophilic associations with nature and burden of disease. It set the tone for the theme on health and biodiversity for the conference.
The major theme of deliberation in three parallel sessions was the contribution of biodiversity in securing public health and community well-being. The significance of ecosystem-specific plants and other resources and related indigenous and local traditional knowledge towards the health and nutritional security of people in insufficiently connected and marginalized societies in the region was a critical dimension of consideration. The paradox of regions which have poor access to formal public health care infrastructure or personnel whilst having abundant bio-cultural resources with significant impact on community health and well-being was stressed.
Mechanisms for protection of such traditional knowledge resources, prevention of their erosion and linking with scientific research were flagged as areas that need attention. Experiences and case studies to this effect such as resource conservation, documentation of resources and associated knowledge in biodiversity registers and their assessment, encouraging local innovations and enterprise development based on biological resources and associated knowledge were shared. These directly also have a bearing on strengthening the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol, in addition to other Convention on Biological Diversity objectives and decisions.
The main speakers of the different sessions were Suneetha M Subramanian (UNU), Cristina Romanelli (Secretariat of the CBD), Unnikrishnan Payyappalli (UNU), Gerard Bodeker (Oxford University), Danny Hunter (Bioversity International), Eni Hirmayani (Uni of Gadjah Mada) and Norini Haron (Forest Research Institute, Malaysia).
A session on ways forward to follow up on the theme in the region was organized as a group session. The session discussed potential areas of cooperation to further the understanding and develop a comprehensive regional scoping of the sector, create awareness and contribute to the building of more robust, peer reviewed evidence about the importance of the interlinked domains of biodiversity conservation, health and nutritional security goals, and the use of different knowledge systems to achieve them. Areas of cooperation discussed were: policy research; capacity development; policy advocacy; supporting establishment of centres of excellence and field models of implementation as well as community to community learning exchanges.