NAIROBI, March 30 (Xinhuanet) -- Degradation of ecosystem has reached an alarming rate, posing the biggest barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a United Nations (UN) report warned Wednesday.
"Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty and hunger eradication, improved health and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies continue to be degraded," said the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report released in Nairobi.
Speaking during the launch of the report, Steve Lonergan, director of division of early warning and assessment of the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), warned that pressures on ecosystems will increase globally in coming decades, unless human attitudes and actions change.
"Humans have made unprecedented changes to ecosystems in recent decades to meet growing demands for food, fresh water, fiber and energy. The loss of services derived from ecosystems is a significant barrier to the achievement of the MDGs to reduce poverty, hunger and disease," Lonergan told reporters.
The report shows how human activities are causing environmental damages on a massive scale throughout the world and how biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate.
According to the report, more land was converted to cropland since 1945 than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined. In the last several decades, 20 percent of world's coral reefs and 35 percent of mangrove areas were lost. Amount of water in reservoir squad rupled and withdrawals from rivers and lakes doubled since 1960.
Humans have increased the species extinction rate by as much as1,000 times over background rates typical over the planet's history with 10 percent to 30 percent of mammal, bird and amphibian species currently threatened with extinction.
"For too long we have focused on how much we can take from our ecosystems, with little attention to the services that they provide," said Mohammed Bakarr, director of World Agroforestry Center's Strategic Initiatives, on the launch of the report.
"Ecosystems provide essential services like climate control and nutrient recycling that we cannot replace at any reasonable price," he stressed.
Despite the progress achieved in increasing the production and use of some ecosystem services, level of poverty remains high, inequities are growing, and many people still do not have a sufficient supply of or access to ecosystem services, the report said.
The loss of natural services, such as the purification of the air and water, protection from disasters and provision of medicines, as a result of damaged and degraded ecosystems have also become a significant barrier in the quest to meet the MDGs by2015.
There are 1.1 billion people surviving on less than one US dollar per day of income, with 70 percent of them in rural areas where they are highly dependent on ecosystem services.
More than 2 billion people live in the dry regions of the world, and they suffer more than any other part of the population from problems such as malnutrition, infant mortality and diseases related to contaminated or insufficient water.
Areas such as sub-Saharan Africa are among those where natural services are most threatened by human impacts. Bucking the trend of the rest of the world, the amount of food produced for each person living in this region has actually been going down.
In many cases, it is the poor who suffer the loss of services caused directly by the pressure put on natural systems to bring benefit to other communities, often in different parts of the world, the report revealed.
Poor people are particularly vulnerable to ecosystem changes. Addressing the threat to the planet's natural assets therefore must be seen as part of the fight against poverty, the report noted.
The report says the costs of restoring ecosystems can be high, indicating that it is cheaper to conserve them rather than pollute and clean up afterwards.
"We already know enough to begin to manage ecosystems sustainably. We can restore some of the natural productivity we have lost," Bakarr told reporters.
He added that while our knowledge of ecosystems has increased dramatically, it has not kept pace with our ability to alter them.
"Our failure to think in terms of ecosystems has been rooted in our profound lack of information about how ecosystems affect us and what condition they are in," he said.
The report gives possible solution to the stresses building up in the planet's natural infrastructure. People should change the economic background to decision-making and make sure the value of all ecosystem services, not just those bought and sold in the market, are taken into account when making decision.
The report sets out common-sense strategies for protecting species and habitats and preserving this natural capital for development. It also identifies the changes in institutions and policies that will be needed.
"The overriding conclusion of this assessment is that it lies within the power of human societies to ease the strains we are putting on the natural services of the planet while continuing to use them to bring better living standards to all," the report said.
"Achieving this, however, will require radical changes in the way nature is treated at every level of decision-making and new ways of cooperation between government, business and civil society. The warning signs are there for all of us to see. The future now lies in our hands," scientists warned in the report.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report was called for by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2000. It has involved the work of over 1,300 experts from 95 countries.
The assessment was designed by a partnership of UN agencies, international scientific organizations and development agencies, with guidance from the private sector and civil society groups. Enditem