Forests and Human Health July-1-2009

Health Impact Assessment

In COHAB 2 conference ( in April 2008, several speakers noted the lack of guidelines in relation to the possible health impacts of forest-related operations, and the same theme appeared in discussions in the Forest and Human Health meeting organized jointly by SWEDBIO and CIFOR in Stockholm, Sept, 4 th, 2008.

After discussions with various partners, the forHealth task force began a process of drafting a guidelines proposal for health impact assessment in forest context (F-HIA). In addition to the director of COHAB, Conor Kretsch, the task force was joined in this effort by Dr. Peter Furu ( of the DBL Centre for Health and Development of the University of Copenhagen (

Anopheles mosquitos cause millions of cases of malaria every year. Presence of wetlands near human habitations in the tropics can therefore be a health risk.

Dr. Furu is an expert in the HIA process and has worked with e.g. WHO. On the Metla side, the effort is coordinated by Dr. Jari Parviainen, the director of Metla's Eastern Finland Research Unit.

HIA is a practical approach used to judge the potential health effects of a policy, programme or project. Recommendations are produced for decision-makers and stakeholders, with the aim of maximising the proposal's positive health effects and minimising its negative effects. HIA approach is strongly supported by WHO because it provides a foundation for improved health and well-being of people likely to be affected by such proposals. A few countries use HIA more or less regularly as part of certain planning processes; others have used it on a voluntary basis, but most countries do not apply it.

Many types of projects and policies in forestry, agriculture, urban and rural planning, construction, recreation etc. can change forest environments so that important health determinants are altered, influencing human health either positively or negatively.

This is particularly prominent in many 3rd world countries where forests are undergoing drastic changes directly affecting the nourishment of local people, their herb-based medicinal system, or perhaps the movements of some zoonoosis vector.

However, it is true also of all industrialized societies, where e.g. some construction plan may threaten a wood that is important for recreation purposes and thus health of local residents, or loss of biodiversity may affect negatively the often complicated ecosystem services of forests.

WHO uses the following definition: HIA = A combination of procedures, methods and tools by which a policy, programme or project may be judged as to its potential effects on the health of a population, and the distribution of those effects within the population ( ).

In Metla, Miss Sanni Huvinen is currently preparing a literature-based survey on the possible types of health impacts (positive and negative) connected to forests. That will form the basis for our first skecth of a classification. We hope to post it on our netsite in the weeks to come and hope that our members and partners will comment on it and make suggestions for additions.

We hope that the classification will develop through our common effort so that we can together discuss the current phase of the work in Buenos Aires in Autumn.


Our partners: COHAB

In the HIA-project we have joined forces with the COHAB Initiative. It “works to establish an international, inter-disciplinary framework for dialogue and partnership, supporting activities for community health, international development and biodiversity conservation. The Initiative… works towards the implementation of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the Millennium Development Goals. It provides a global forum for all stakeholders to share experiences, discuss needs and opportunities, build capacities and develop new partnerships.”

The COHAB Initiative Secretariat is also working with the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity to develop a toolkit on the relationship between biodiversity and human well-being for the health sector and other stakeholders working in developing countries.

Thus, the scope of COHAB is biodiversity and human well-being, a much broader theme than forests and health, which is our topic. We believe that our task force can contribute to the COHAB effort and that COHAB with its expertise and networks, bring new ideas and actors to our effort (

Erkki Kauhanen


More information:

  • Dr. Jari Parviainen, Director of Metla’s Eastern Finland Research Unit (;
  • Dr. Erkki Kauhanen, Head of Communications, Metla (;
  • Dr. Peter Furu, Senior Advisor at DBL-Centre for Health Research and Development, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen (;
  • Director Conor Kretsch, COHAB Initiative Secretariat, Galway, Ireland (


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