Conference summary: Avoiding Catastrophe – Linking Armed Conflict, Harm to Ecosystems and Public Health

An Ebola treatment center in Magburaka, Sierra Leone. At a recent conference, participants addressed how violent conflict can disrupt efforts to respond to health emergencies, such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Photo: UN Photo/Martin Perret
Recent conference sought to find synergies to address armed conflict, environmental degradation and disease.

Future Earth supported and participated in the conference “Avoiding Catastrophe – Linking Armed Conflict, Harm to Ecosystems and Public Health” held by the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre at Concordia University in Montreal from May 4 to 6. The conference, which was supported by a Connections grant from the Social Science Research and Humanities Council of Canada, brought together experts from different disciplines to examine critical challenges around health and conflict through a more integrated lens. Other partners included EcoHealth Alliance, Doctors without Borders, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Right Studies, the Consortium of Universities for Global Health and several academic institutions.

The conference, which included leadership panels and an expert workshop for open discussion, provided a forum for a new way of looking at a “triple-threat” for societies: Conflict, disease and loss of ecosystem services can all have long-lasting damage on populations. The conference explored how increasing global and local pressures on the environment can threaten the security of food, water and other resources, potentially exacerbating or creating conflict in human societies. The drivers that lead to biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems, such as the degradation of natural habitats or the spread of invasive species, can also drive the emergence of new diseases. As seen with the Ebola crisis in West Africa in recent years, which struck nations with a history of violent conflict, the historical and residual effects of military conflict may also hinder capacity to address public health threats.

“A ‘One Health’ approach that appreciates the connections between humans, animals, our environment and the social determinants of health can help identify pressures on our populations that might lead to conflict over resource scarcity and develop solutions that promote resilience and stewardship,” says Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance and Chair of Future Health, a global research project of Future Earth, who participated in the conference. “Platforms like Future Earth are crucial for building on the links catalysed at the conference to help us move toward transformative solutions to prevent catastrophe and protect people and our planet.” Anne-Hélène Prieur-Richard, Director of the Future Earth Global Hub in Montreal, reinforced the added value of this type of workshop "designed to break silos, both in terms of research fields and academics working with practitioners and stakeholders to jointly build the knowledge needed to support solutions for the benefit of societies. Such knowledge is crucial for both developing and developed countries facing different but similar public health challenges."

As part of the conference, Future Earth also held a lunchtime session to introduce the overall goals of Future Earth and its planned Knowledge-Action Network on health, which aims to facilitate research and policy synthesis on critical challenges surrounding the connections between global change and health.

The conference was featured in a news story by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. You can also read more about it in this release from Concordia University.