Deforestation Linked To Poor Health In Cambodian Children

Research in Cambodia suggests the importance of considering health impacts when assessing tradeoffs in land use planning.

AsianScientist (Aug. 31, 2017) – Scientists in Singapore have found that the loss of dense forest in Cambodia was associated with higher risk of diarrhea, acute respiratory infection and fever in children. They report their findings in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.

Cambodia is one of Asia’s fastest developing countries. However, as Cambodia undergoes urbanization and prioritizes economic growth, its natural environment has begun to feel the strain of progress.

In this study, a team of researchers led by Assistant Professor Roman Carrasco from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) assessed how environmental degradation in Cambodia impacts the health of Cambodian children. The team analyzed health survey data collected from 35,547 households in 1,766 communities in Cambodia between 2005 and 2014.

The researchers discovered that a ten percent reduction in dense forest is associated with a 14 percent increase in the incidence of diarrhea in children younger than five years old. In addition, the team’s findings showed that an increase in protected area cover was associated with lower risk of diarrhea and acute respiratory infection.

“Currently, there are limited studies on the health benefits that forests may provide,” said Mr. Thomas Pienkowski who is the first author of the study. “Most research looking at the impact of deforestation on health focuses on single diseases, thus making it challenging to integrate into policy. Furthermore, it is unclear how these environmental threats can be mitigated, and if conservation tools such as protected areas can play a role.”

“In this study, we showed that deforestation in Cambodia is associated with an increased risk of leading causes of childhood mortality and morbidity. This highlights the link between environmental degradation and health, and suggests that conserving forests could help in mitigating health burden. Our findings suggest that public health impacts of deforestation should be accounted for when policy makers are assessing trade-offs in land use planning, and present new possibilities for simultaneous achievement of public health and conservation goals,” said Carrasco.

Building on their findings, the NUS research team plans to expand the study to include regional analyses in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to assess how the relationship between health and tropical forest conservation may change under different socioeconomic and environmental realities.

The article can be found at: Pienkowski et al. (2017) Empirical Evidence of the Public Health Benefits of Tropical Forest Conservation in Cambodia: A Generalized Linear Mixed-effects Model Analysis.


Source: National University of Singapore; Photo: Pixabay.
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