Global kids study: More trees, less dis­ease

Tehran Times - - SCIENCE -

A Univer­sity of Ver­mont-led study of 300,000 chil­dren in 35 na­tions says kids whose wa­ter­sheds have greater tree cover are less likely to ex­pe­ri­ence di­ar­rheal dis­ease, the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death for chil­dren un­der the age of five.

Pub­lished in Na­ture Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the study is the first to quan­tify the con­nec­tion be­tween water­shed qual­ity and in­di­vid­ual health out­comes of chil­dren at the global scale.

“Look­ing at all of these di­verse house­holds in all these dif­fer­ent coun­tries, we find the health­ier your water­shed up­stream, the less likely your kids are to get this po­ten­tially fa­tal dis­ease,” says Tay­lor Rick­etts of UVM’s Gund In­sti­tute for En­vi­ron­ment.

Wa­ter san­i­ta­tion

Sur­pris­ingly, the team pre­dicts that a 30 per­cent in­crease in up­stream tree cover in ru­ral wa­ter­sheds would have a com­pa­ra­ble ef­fect to im­proved wa­ter san­i­ta­tion, such as the ad­di­tion of in­door plumb­ing or toi­lets.

“This sug­gests that pro­tect­ing wa­ter­sheds, in the right cir­cum­stances, can dou­ble as a public health in­vest­ment,” says Bren­dan Fisher of UVM’s Gund In­sti­tute and Ruben­stein School of En­vi­ron­ment and Nat­u­ral Re­sourc- es. “This shows, very clearly, how ‘nat­u­ral in­fra­struc­ture’ can di­rectly sup­port hu­man health and wel­fare.”

The re­search is the first to use a mas­sive new data­base that will en­able “big data” ap­proaches to study links be­tween hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment, glob­ally. The data­base fea­tures 30 years of USAID de­mo­graphic and health sur­veys, with 150 vari­ables for 500,000 house­holds, in­clud­ing spa­tial data on the en­vi­ron­ment.

“We are not say­ing trees are more im­por­tant than toi­lets and in­door plumb­ing,” says Diego Her­rera, who led the pa­per as a UVM post­doc­toral re­searcher, and is now at En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund. “But these find­ings clearly show that forests and other nat­u­ral sys­tems can com­ple­ment tra­di­tional wa­ter san­i­ta­tion sys­tems, and help com­pen­sate for a lack of in­fra­struc­ture.”

Water­shed forests

The re­searchers hope the find­ings help gov­ern­ments and devel­op­ment agen­cies to im­prove the health and en­vi­ron­ment of chil­dren around the world. They add that more re­search is needed to more fully un­der­stand ex­actly how water­shed forests impact the risk of dis­eases like di­ar­rhea, which has many causes, in­clud­ing wa­ter­borne pathogens.

The re­search cov­ers 35 na­tions across Africa, South­east Asia, South Amer­ica and the Caribbean, in­clud­ing Bangladesh, Philip­pines, Nige­ria, Colom­bia, and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo.

The study was sup­ported by the Na­tional So­cio-En­vi­ron­men­tal Syn­the­sis Cen­ter (SESYNC), the Luc Hoff­mann In­sti­tute, and WWF -- along with The Gordon and Betty Moore Foun­da­tion and The Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion as part of the Health & Ecosys­tems: Anal­y­sis of Link­ages (HEAL) pro­gram.

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