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Human health outcomes of land use decisions

A series of live coverage updates from Global Land Programme’s 2019 Open Science Meeting in Bern, Switzerland.

26 April, 2:30 pm CET

Deforestation is causing increased health problems in rural communities in poorer countries by forcing a shift to lower quality wood for burning in homes.

Pam Jagger, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, says her research has found that while all wood burning at home (for cooking, heat, etc) is harmful to health, dry forest wood is less harmful than the green or wet wood people are forced to use as forests recede.

It is not a small issue. Globally, household air pollution is responsible for between 2.2 and 4.8 million deaths a year, she told a session at the Global Land Programme’s 4th Open Science Meeting.

This is different from general air pollution in cities and most of the deaths are in poorer, developing countries.

“Exposure to smoke or household air pollution is the biggest health problem in poor communities,” Jagger said, noting the global, annual death rate was higher than those for AIDS or malaria.

Jagger’s research in parts of Uganda showed that forest area declined 36.3 percent between 2003 and 2011. This is the very forest loss that is pressuring the people in the area to turn to lower quality, more unhealthy wood and other plants.

On an individual household basis, Jagger calculates that, between 2007 and 2012, use of “good” wood fell to 71.3 kilos per year per typical home in the region, while use of “bad” wood rose to nearly 108 kilos.

People in such households are, as a result far more likely to suffer from respiratory disease, she said.

Check back for our ongoing coverage of the Global Land Programme’s 2019 Open Science Meeting. You can view the plenary keynotes on the free online livestream from the event, and follow minute-by-minute coverage on Twitter at @GlobalLandP or use the hashtag #GLPOSM to follow attendees’ posts.