By Kayode Ojewale
The truly healthy environment is not merely safe but stimulating
– William H. Stewart (1921- 2008), American pediatrician and epidemiologist
Man and his environment can hardly be separated when human health is being discussed. The environment of a man is a true reflection of his health condition and status because it largely tells his hygiene level. Man’s environment is his immediate surroundings and this includes the living and non-living things around him. Man cannot live in isolation and as such he is bound to constantly interact with his environment. This interaction with the environment tells a lot about the wellbeing of man.
In relation to health, the World Health Organisation (WHO), defines environment as, “all the physical, chemical and biological factors external to a person, and all the related behaviours.” About five decades ago, WHO also defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It can be inferred from these definitions that man’s interactions with everything that surrounds him determine his wellbeing.
Although at the international level, issues related to environmental health have always been addressed from the points of view of ozone layer depletion, climate change and biodiversity, it is important to begin to also address these environmental health challenges from an individual-basis viewpoint by assessing the impact of our activities on the environment. Good or bad, everyone can easily tell from the most personal level how their activities have affected their immediate environment through regular checks on the natural world around us. Air, water and soil make up the non-living parts or the physical constituents of the environment. The quality of these elements determines environmental and human health. When these constituents of the environment are polluted or contaminated, then one might be easily exposed to some health risks. The sustainability of human life is dependent on the environment and it is also capable of infecting man with diseases if not well cared for.
A school of thought, generally accepted by many environmentalists, has it that, virtually everything that man does, is in response to his environment. Man’s environment, internal or external, dictates his actions most times and hence affects the quality of life. Our environment affects us and we affect it in turn. This is because our environment does to us what we do to it in areas of treatment and handling. It may be indirectly, but we certainly do. This therefore establishes man’s core relationship with his environment. Some environmental experts have even argued that man is the real threat to his own life on planet earth. This narrative can change when we engage in healthy activities that will protect, maintain and restore the quality of our environment.
Humanity has forgotten that the environment can exist without man, but no man without the environment. We are then at the mercy of the environment when we are attacked by diseases that are environmentally-induced. How then do we treat the environment to avoid being stricken by illnesses? Or in what ways have we been negatively impacting the environment by our actions and inactions as humans? Why have we neglected or paid little attention to the way we take care of our environment as humans? Where exactly did we miss the understanding of the role environment plays in our health as we daily interact with it? Why is the environment so important just as the human health? When are we reconciling with our environment by giving it what it deserves and demands? Certain human activities like overexploitation of resources, indiscriminate bush burning, pollution and deforestation all destroy or negatively impact the environment on a large scale. The environment is as important as our health and must be protected because a healthy environment or ecosystem provides us with food, clean water and purified air. A healthy environment also regulates climate and maintains our soil. Man’s failure to protect his environment is borne out of his poor understanding of the role it plays. An unhealthy environment will certainly snowball into unhealthy lifestyle. The time to reconcile with our environment is now so that we can save our own lives.
Diseases are best prevented when the environment is healthy. Humanity must live life with this caveat in mind: When man dies, the environment still lives; but when the environment dies, it automatically signals the arrival of death for man.
The task of keeping our environment in good shape remains an unflinching obligation for every human being if truly we desire good health in the long run. The attendant uneasiness, discomfort and dysfunction the body experiences when attacked by diseases will be stemmed if the environment is okay. The spread of diseases will also be nipped in the bud when the environment is adequately and properly catered for.
When we take charge of our environment, we invariably take charge and care of our health as well. How caring or sensitive we are to our immediate surroundings speaks volumes of our ultimate survival. We save our lives when we save the environment.
Ojewale writes from Idimu,