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International Day for Biological Diversity

Restoring Biodiversity to Improve Human Health

By Ina Rahlina, RISE Indonesia Communications Officer, 22 May 2018

Today we celebrate 25 years of action for biodiversity, marking the anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Biodiversity is essential to the existence of present and future generations. However, threats to the earth’s ecosystems are escalating, with the extinction of species growing at an alarming rate, largely driven by human activity.

The Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 in Japan adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. The purpose was to generate broad-based action in support of biodiversity over the next decade by all countries and stakeholders. In essence, the strategy is “living in harmony with nature”, inspired by the global community's growing commitment to sustainable development.

The consequences of living in discord with nature are devastating, and already being experienced around the world. Urban informal settlements on the outskirts of major cities in the developing world are some of the hardest hit. For example, in Makassar, Indonesia, excessive concrete infrastructure significantly increases flooding during the wet season, as the rainfall cannot be naturally absorbed and has nowhere else to go.

“Harmonising with nature” is the driving force behind Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE) – a five-year health and environmental research program being led by Monash University, funded by the Wellcome Trust’s ‘Our Planet, Our Health’ initiative.

RISE is trialing the water sensitive approach to water and sanitation management in 24 urban informal settlements in Suva, Fiji and Makassar, Indonesia. The program aims to demonstrate that localised, nature-based solutions can improve water and sanitation access, and biodiversity, consequently improving human health and well-being, especially for children under five years of age.

The RISE theory of change is in line with the vision of the Convention on Biological Diversity that states, “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people”.

The water sensitive approach integrates sustainable water infrastructure into buildings and landscapes, including constructed wetlands, bio-filtration gardens, and local sanitation systems based on “smart” new septic tanks. Also known as nature-based solutions, these types of systems are more ecologically sustainable because they mimic the earth’s natural systems, while being more economically sustainable because they require less maintenance and do not require connection to a central “big pipes” system.

The RISE research is applying a randomised control trial, through which 12 settlements will receive the solutions initially and 12 will act as the “control” group, to receive the solutions after two years. Comprehensive environmental and human health assessments will demonstrate the impact of improved biodiversity on the RISE settlements throughout the five-year program duration.

Indonesia is one of 17 classified megadiverse countries that harbor the majority of the Earth’s species, particularly endemic species. This biodiversity is worth saving, not only for the health of current and future generations of people, but also for the sake of the planet.