By Senator Bill Frist, MD
I’m honored to be traveling in China this week on behalf of Hope Through Healing Hands as a member of the Global Board of Directors for The Nature Conservancy. We will be spending eight days at the intersection of global health and nature, conservation and climate. Climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people in the world, and I’m looking forward to learning more about how we can help both conservation efforts and global health.
China is one of the world’s most diverse and beautiful countries – from its geography and wildlife to its culture and history. Tracy and I have been so impressed by the beauty and the history of this nation.
But much of this diversity faces threats from the country’s accelerating development. The Nature Conservancy has been working in China for nearly two decades to find solutions that support livelihoods and economic growth while protecting its natural resources.
Our trip marks the first time that the Global Board of Directors visits TNC’s projects in China. The TNC’s China Board has accomplished much in this unique part of the world, and I look forward to seeing the progress on the ground.
At our first joint board meeting between the Global Board and the China Board, we got an overview of the challenges that lie ahead of this nation. New evidence indicates that 60% of China’s groundwater is polluted. The direct health-related costs of water pollution were estimated at $8 billion by 2003; total costs of the water pollution are in the range of $34 to $44 billion. Polluted drinking water has been linked to “cancer villages” across the country.
There is no doubt that environment impacts health in powerful ways.
We have also met with the Chinese State Forestry Administration, which directs national forestry resources conservation and management, including wetlands and nature reserves. Today we signed a 2016-2021 Memorandum of Understanding between The Nature Conservancy and Chen Fengxue of the SFA, that accelerates collaboration on issues promoting conservation models, such as national parks and land trust nature reserves, ecological restoration, and abating wildlife trade.
Later this week we will meet with more experts and learn about the impact of construction projects and conservation projects on global fisheries, China’s current land trust model and how protected areas are designated, and how hydrodams impact river ecology and the local communities and economies downstream.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of what I’ve learned about how our environment impacts global health.