The environment has long been recognized as a crucial determinant for survival and health. Climate change is potentially the biggest global health threat in the 21st century. Global environmental change threatens human health on an unprecedented scale, both through direct effects such as extreme weather events and indirectly, through scarcity of safe water and nutritious food. Deprivations, such as poor nutrition, are irreversible by the age of 24 months and have lifelong cognitive, physical and reproductive repercussions for children.The threats to the health of humans and the planet’s ecosystems are exacerbated by demographic changes, including population growth and increasing consumption.
Around two billion of the world’s population currently suffers from under nutrition and environmental changes will put further pressure on food systems. The challenge in the coming decades is to use research to inform the design of food and health systems that are resilient in the face of substantial irreversible environmental changes, such as severe and persistent drought, and environmental shocks, such as flooding. Environmental change will put further pressure on food systems, for example through predicted changes in rainfall and temperature. Beyond climate change, other environmental changes will impact on food systems and nutrition: for example, ocean acidification and over-fishing are affecting aquatic ecosystems and local food availability. Urbanization and increasing wealth are leading to dietary and behavioral shifts associated with a rise in obesity that must also be tackled.
There is increasing acknowledgement that different sectors including agriculture, environment, economics and health will need to work together to address food insecurity. The challenge in the coming decades is to design and manage food and health systems that are resilient in the face of short-term environmental shocks and large-scale, irreversible environmental changes, such as severe and persistent drought and regional shifts in climate. Nutrition is now seen as an important part of the challenge of food security, prompting some to suggest that ‘nutritional security may be a more appropriate goal.
Keywords: Environment, global health, nutrition, safe water, food systems and agriculture etc.