By Tamar Kahn
The health and wellbeing of future generations is being jeopardised by our reckless exploitation of the planets resources, but there is still scope to reduce our impact on the environment, according to a report from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Lancet Commission on Planetary Health due to be released later on Wednesday in Johannesburg.
“We have mortgaged the health of future generations to realise economic and development gains in the present,” said the reports 15 authors, which include Vitality Institute executive director Derek Yach.
“For a country like South Africa, issues like water scarcity and food waste need to addressed far more effectively,” said Dr Yach, adding that individual dietary changes, could contribute to better planetary health in the long-term. “Even modest shifts in reducing beef consumption and increasing fruit and vegetable intake translates into better water use and less greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
University of Stellenbosch professor Linus Opara said South Africa wasted more than a third of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The report warns that a growing population, runaway consumption, and the over-use of natural resources mean humanity is on the verge of triggering irreversible environmental changes that threaten the health gains made in recent decades and pose new hazards, ranging from food insecurity to new infectious diseases.
“We are on the verge of triggering irreversible, global effects, ranging from ocean acidification to biodiversity loss,” said the reports chair Professor Sir Andy Haines from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “These environmental changes threaten the gains in health that have been achieved over recent decades, and increase the risks to health arising from major challenges such as under-nutrition and food insecurity, water shortages, emerging infectious diseases, and extreme weather events.”
The reports release was accompanied by two new studies highlighting how environmental changes are likely to reduce the nutrient content of key food crops, with a knock-on effect on health. The first study estimated the impact of a decline in insect pollinators, which are involved in about a third of global food production, and are directly responsible for the production of about 40% of the worlds supply of micronutrients like vitamin A and folate.
It estimated that a 50% decline in pollinators would push about 35-million people into vitamin A deficiency, and lead to about 700,000 more deaths a year from non-communicable diseases and malnutrition-related diseases. The second estimated that human-related carbon emissions would place at least 132 million more people at risk of zinc deficiency by 2050.
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Image credit: THINKSTOCK, via BDLive