Tree cover helps stem deadly childhood diseases

Increased upstream tree cover in rural watersheds could help stem the spread of fatal childhood illnesses, a new study has revealed. Children in these river basins are less likely to experience diarrhoeal disease.

Children living in river basins whose watersheds have greater tree cover are less likely to experience diarrhoeal disease, the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five.

These are the findings of a global study led by the University of Vermont (UVM), which studied 300,000 children in 35 countries across Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

The research estimates that a 30 per cent increase in upstream tree cover in rural watersheds could have a comparable effect to improved sanitation, such as the addition of indoor plumbing or toilets.

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

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four deaths of children under the age of five are attributable to unhealthy environments. More than 360,000 children are estimated to die of diarrhoeal disease every year because of poor access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

The new findings, which were supported by WWF, mark an important step forward in identifying strategies to improve the health and environment of children globally.

Using big data, the study demonstrated a strong potential link between forest and water quality and human health.

Photo credit: Rod Waddington/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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