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Promoting health and well-being by managing for social–ecological resilience: the potential of integrating ecohealth and water resources management approaches

This paper combines insights from the field of eco-health (which advocates human health and well-being as an important outcome of effective ecosystem management) with those from integrated watershed management (which promotes watersheds as appropriate units for managing ecosystems).

The authors state that priorities for understanding and realising health benefits of watershed management include:

  • addressing poverty and reducing inequities
  • promoting resilience (for health) in watersheds
  • applying watersheds as a context for intersectoral management tools and policy integration

The paper draws out some specific aspects of how governance in complex social–ecological systems, demonstrating potential avenues to management of watersheds for human health and well-being. Examples of work linking health and watershed management demonstrate that not only is appreciation of complex systems important, but an effective approach is participatory and transdisciplinary and gives attention to equity and historical context.

 The initiatives highlight:

  • participatory, collaborative, and empowering nature of the work with stakeholders in Costa Rica and Madagascar;
  • thinking across disciplines and scales such as is evident when linking wetland conservation and avian influenza in Asia;
  • gastrointestinal disease and watersheds in Kathmandu;
  • and the historical context in ecosystem functions in the Upper Mississippi River. 

In all the examples, attention is given to understanding the relationships among watershed processes, ecological goods and services, and human health and well-being. Despite the obstacles faced in the initiatives, the authors view that the opportunity and potential outweigh the challenges, with integrated watershed management and ecohealth providing a vehicle to address converging human health, social, and environmental objectives.