Beddington JR, Asaduzzaman M, Clark ME, Fernández Bremauntz A, Guillou MD, Howlett DJB, Jahn MM, Lin E, Mamo T, Negra C, et al. What Next for Agriculture After Durban?. Science [Internet]. 2012;335 :289-290. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Global agriculture must produce more food to feed a growing population. Yet scientific assessments point to climate change as a growing threat to agricultural yields and food security (14). Recent droughts and floods in the Horn of Africa, Russia, Pakistan, and Australia affected food production and prices. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the frequency of such extreme weather events will increase (5), which, when combined with poverty, weak governance, conflict, and poor market access, can result in hunger and famine. At the same time, agriculture exacerbates climate change when greenhouse gases (GHGs) are released by land clearing, inappropriate fertilizer use, and other practices (6).

Ainsworth EA, Long SP. What have we learned from 15 years of free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE)? A meta-analytic review of the responses of photosynthesis, canopy properties, and plant production to rising CO2. New Phytologist [Internet]. 2005;165 :351-372. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Free-air CO(2) enrichment (FACE) experiments allow study of the effects of elevated [CO(2)] on plants and ecosystems grown under natural conditions without enclosure. Data from 120 primary, peer-reviewed articles describing physiology and production in the 12 large-scale FACE experiments (475-600 ppm) were collected and summarized using meta-analytic techniques. The results confirm some results from previous chamber experiments: light-saturated carbon uptake, diurnal C assimilation, growth and above-ground production increased, while specific leaf area and stomatal conductance decreased in elevated [CO(2)]. There were differences in FACE. Trees were more responsive than herbaceous species to elevated [CO(2)]. Grain crop yields increased far less than anticipated from prior enclosure studies. The broad direction of change in photosynthesis and production in elevated [CO(2)] may be similar in FACE and enclosure studies, but there are major quantitative differences: trees were more responsive than other functional types; C(4) species showed little response; and the reduction in plant nitrogen was small and largely accounted for by decreased Rubisco. The results from this review may provide the most plausible estimates of how plants in their native environments and field-grown crops will respond to rising atmospheric [CO(2)]; but even with FACE there are limitations, which are also discussed.

Crighton EJ, Barwin L, Small I, Upshur R. What have we learned? A review of the literature on children's health and the environment in the Aral Sea area. Int J Public Health [Internet]. 2011;56 (2) :125-38. Publisher's VersionAbstract

OBJECTIVES: To review the published literature examining the impacts of the Aral Sea disaster on children's health. METHODS: A systematic review of the English language literature. RESULTS: The literature search uncovered 26 peer-reviewed articles and four major reports published between 1994 and 2008. Anemia, diarrheal diseases, and high body burdens of toxic contaminants were identified as being among the significant health problems for children. These problems are associated either directly with the environmental disaster or indirectly via the deterioration of the region's economy and social and health care services. While links between persistent organic pollutant exposures and body burdens are clear, health impacts remain poorly understood. No clear evidence for the link between dust exposure and respiratory function was identified. CONCLUSION: While important questions about the nature of the child health and environment relationships remain to be answered, the literature unequivocally illustrates the seriousness of the public health tragedy and provides sufficient evidence to justify immediate action. Regrettably, international awareness of the crisis continues to be poor, and the level of action addressing the situation is wholly inadequate.

Hepworth N, Hooper V, Hellebrandt D, Lankford B. What factors determine the performance of institutional mechanisms for water resources management in developing countries in delivering pro-poor outcomes and supporting sustainable economic growth?. Collaboration for Environmental Evidence [Internet]. 2013. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Background: This mapping exercise explores the nature of empirical research regarding: What factors determine the performance of institutional mechanisms for water resources management in developing countries in terms of delivering pro-poor outcomes, and supporting sustainable economic growth?
Adequate water resources for health, ecosystems and production are a global concern. Institutions capable of water resource management (WRM) in ways which support social and economic progress are urgently needed, particularly in developing countries. Participation, decentralisation, reform, and marketization are promoted, but evidence of what works, where and why is difficult to find: a significant problem for those faced with decisions about appropriate approaches to adopt and support. This work is a timely response to imperatives for evidence based decision making, and is a touchstone for improved analysis, policy and practice in the field of WRM.

Methods: Relevant academic and grey literature were identified through a comprehensive and peer reviewed search strategy. To be included, studies had to: (1) concern formal and informal rules, norms and strategies, including organisations, laws, regulations, conventions, systems and agreements relating to freshwater in rivers, lakes and groundwater; (2) show primary, empirical evidence of pro-poor or sustainable economic growth outcomes; (3) concern developing countries; and (4), be in English. Articles were progressively screened at abstract, title and full text level, prior to coding and mapping against agreed criteria. Mapped data were analysed and cross-tabulated to support interpretation.

Results: 29,844 articles returned by the search were reduced to a final sample of 38 relevant studies based on full text review. Analysis of this sample reveals:

  • Institutional mechanisms can be grouped into seven types: organisational; legal; participation; decentralisation; and markets; privatisation and infrastructure, with most articles considering multiples of these. Clusters emerge by geography and type (i.e. IWRM in East Africa, water markets in Chile).
  • Factors which influence outcomes can be organised using six typologies and according to their origins: exogenous, endogenous or interface (after Saleth and Dinar 2005).
  • A quarter of papers were judged to exhibit a weak chain of reasoning with only 11% judged as strong.
  • Most were published since 2002, and where reported, important funding sources are DFID, IWMI, World Bank and the Natural Sciences Foundation of China. 19 countries feature with clusters of research in India, China, Tanzania and Chile.
  • Less than half of the papers in the sample provide an adequate description of methodology. Almost one in five provide no methodological description.


Conclusions: The systematic map confirms that the pool of reliable knowledge from which to draw is diminutive when the exacting standards of systematic mapping are applied. Whilst the imperatives for getting WRM ‘right’ are intuitively strong, we currently lack the evidence to: (a) confirm whether WRM institutions are performing; and (b) comprehend and manage the range of factors which shape that performance. Whilst clear cut evidence for universal determinants of institutional performance is not anticipated, it is startling how little good quality research links policy and institutions to outcomes, or diagnoses the root causes of performance.

The implications for international policy and practice are significant and demand an urgent response. Without adequate knowledge or metrics of the social and economic outcomes, and determinants of WRM, efforts to improve performance lack strategic direction and operational accountability, and funding, political and other support for improved performance is at risk. These findings demonstrate the need for radical improvement across the research cycle, including in commissioning, design, delivery, reporting, review and publishing. Specific recommendations based on the evidence and insights generated by this systematic map are set out in the report.

Keniger LE, Gaston KJ, Irvine KN, Fuller RA. What are the benefits of interacting with nature?. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [Internet]. 2013;10 (3) :913-935. Publisher's VersionAbstract

There is mounting empirical evidence that interacting with nature delivers measurable benefits to people. Reviews of this topic have generally focused on a specific type of benefit, been limited to a single discipline, or covered the benefits delivered from a particular type of interaction. Here we construct novel typologies of the settings, interactions and potential benefits of people-nature experiences, and use these to organise an assessment of the benefits of interacting with nature. We discover that evidence for the benefits of interacting with nature is geographically biased towards high latitudes and Western societies, potentially contributing to a focus on certain types of settings and benefits. Social scientists have been the most active researchers in this field. Contributions from ecologists are few in number, perhaps hindering the identification of key ecological features of the natural environment that deliver human benefits. Although many types of benefits have been studied, benefits to physical health, cognitive performance and psychological well-being have received much more attention than the social or spiritual benefits of interacting with nature, despite the potential for important consequences arising from the latter. The evidence for most benefits is correlational, and although there are several experimental studies, little as yet is known about the mechanisms that are important for delivering these benefits. For example, we do not know which characteristics of natural settings (e.g., biodiversity, level of disturbance, proximity, accessibility) are most important for triggering a beneficial interaction, and how these characteristics vary in importance among cultures, geographic regions and socio-economic groups. These are key directions for future research if we are to design landscapes that promote high quality interactions between people and nature in a rapidly urbanising world.

MCDADE TW, WILLIAMS S, SNODGRASS JJ. What a drop can do: dried blood spots as a minimally invasive method for integrating biomarkers into population-based research. Demography [Internet]. 2007;44 :899-925. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Logistical constraints associated with the collection and analysis of biological samples in community-based settings have been a significant impediment to integrative, multilevel bio-demographic and biobehavioral research. However recent methodological developments have overcome many of these constraints and have also expanded the options for incorporating biomarkers into population-based health research in international as well as domestic contexts. In particular using dried blood spot (DBS) samples-drops of whole blood collected on filter paper from a simple finger prick-provides a minimally invasive method for collecting blood samples in nonclinical settings. After a brief discussion of biomarkers more generally, we review procedures for collecting, handling, and analyzing DBS samples. Advantages of using DBS samples-compared with venipuncture include the relative ease and low cost of sample collection, transport, and storage. Disadvantages include requirements for assay development and validation as well as the relatively small volumes of sample. We present the results of a comprehensive literature review of published protocols for analysis of DBS samples, and we provide more detailed analysis of protocols for 45 analytes likely to be of particular relevance to population-level health research. Our objective is to provide investigators with the information they need to make informed decisions regarding the appropriateness of blood spot methods for their research interests.

Horowitz P, Finlayson CM. Wetlands as Settings for Human Health: Incorporating Ecosystem Services and Health Impact Assessment into Water Resource Management. BioScience [Internet]. 2011;61 (9) :678-688. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Reconsidering the relationship between human well-being and environmental quality is central for the management of wetlands and water resources and for public health itself. We propose an integrated strategy involving three approaches. The first is to make assessments of the ecosystem services provided by wetlands more routine. The second is to adopt the “settings” approach, most developed in health promotion, wherein wetlands are one of the settings for human health and provide a context for health policies. Finally, a layered suite of health issues in wetland settings is developed, including core requirements for human health (food and water); health risks from wetland exposures; and broader social determinants of health in wetland settings, including livelihoods and lifestyles. Together, these strategies will allow wetland managers to incorporate health impact assessment processes into their decisionmaking and to examine the health consequences of trade-offs that occur in planning, investment, development, and decisionmaking outside their direct influence. 

LaDeau SL, Marra PP, Kilpatrick MA, Calder CA. West Nile virus revisited: Consequences for North American ecology. Bioscience [Internet]. 2008;58 :937-946. Publisher's VersionAbstract

It has been nine years since West Nile virus (WNV) emerged in New York, and its initial impacts on avian hosts and humans are evident across North America. The direct effects of WNV on avian hosts include documented population declines, but other, indirect ecological consequences of these changed bird communities, such as changes in seed dispersal, insect abundances, and scavenging services, are probable and demand attention. Furthermore, climate (seasonal precipitation and temperature) and land use are likely to influence the intensity and frequency of disease outbreaks, and research is needed to improve mechanistic understanding of these interacting forces. This article reviews the growing body of research describing the ecology of WNV and highlights critical knowledge gaps that must be addressed if we hope to manage disease risk, implement conservation strategies, and make forecasts in the presence of both climate change and WNV—or the next emergent pathogen.

LaDeau SL, Kilpatrick MA, Marra PP. West Nile virus emergence and large-scale declines of North American bird populations. Nature [Internet]. 2007;447 :710-14. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Emerging infectious diseases present a formidable challenge to the conservation of native species in the twenty-first century1. Diseases caused by introduced pathogens have had large impacts on species abundances2, including the American chestnut3, Hawaiian bird species4and many amphibians5. Changes in host population sizes can lead to marked shifts in community composition and ecosystem functioning3, 4,6. However, identifying the impacts of an introduced disease and distinguishing it from other forces that influence population dynamics (for example, climate7) is challenging and requires abundance data that extend before and after the introduction2, 5. Here we use 26 yr of Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)8 data to determine the impact of West Nile virus (WNV) on 20 potential avian hosts across North America. We demonstrate significant changes in population trajectories for seven species from four families that concur with a priori predictions and the spatio-temporal intensity of pathogen transmission. The American crow population declined by up to 45% since WNV arrival, and only two of the seven species with documented impact recovered to pre-WNV levels by 2005. Our findings demonstrate the potential impacts of an invasive species on a diverse faunal assemblage across broad geographical scales, and underscore the complexity of subsequent community response.

Postel SL, Thompson BH. Watershed Protection: Capturing the Benefits of Nature's Water Supply Services. Natural Resources Forum [Internet]. 2005;29. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Healthy watersheds provide a supply and purification of fresh water. Because these services lie outside the traditional domain of commercial markets, they are undervalued. Development pressures leading to rapid modification of watershed lands is leading to the loss of valuable hydrological services, posing risk to the quality and cost of drinking water and the reliability of water supplies. This article summarizes key attributes of hydrological services and their economic benefits; presents mechanisms for safeguarding those services; and discusses programs in Quito, Costa Rica and New York City. This summary is not an official abstract. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract

Cotruvo JA. Waterborne Zoonoses: Identification, Causes, and Control. World Health Organization, IWA Publishing; 2004. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Waterborne disease is mainly due to pathogens transmitted faecal–orally and by drinking water, interconnected with shellfish consumption and other fish harvests and indirect exposure to water in foodstuffs. Zoonotic pathogens among these are significant due to various driving forces e.g., ecosystem disturbance, water scarcity and climate change. Animal (domestic and wild) density in catchment basins determines the amount of zoonotic pathogens entering water sources. Pathogens infecting a wide range of animals (domestic and wild) pose more risk than those that infect only one host rarely present in a catchment basin. People lacking improved water supply access and sanitation are at increased risk. This summary is not an official abstract. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract

Carmichael C, Odams S, Murray V, Sellick M, Colbourne J. Water shortages and extreme events: a call for research. J Water Health [Internet]. 2013;11 (3) :377-81. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Water shortages as a result of extreme weather events, such as flooding and severe cold, have the potential to affect significant numbers of people. Therefore, the need to build robust, coordinated plans based on scientific evidence is crucial. The literature review outlined in this short communication was conducted as part of a joint Drinking Water Inspectorate and Health Protection Agency (now Public Health England) report which aimed to review the scientific evidence base on extreme events, water shortages and the resulting health impacts. A systematic literature review was undertaken to identify published literature from both peer-reviewed and grey literature sources. The retrieved literature was then assessed using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network quality assessment. The authors found very few scientific studies. However, a great deal of valuable grey literature was retrieved and used by the research team. In total, six main themes of importance that were identified by the review and discussed included health impacts, water quantity and quality, alternative supplies, vulnerable groups, communication with those affected and the emergency response. The authors conclude that more research needs to be conducted on health impacts and extreme events water shortages in order to build the future knowledge base and development of resilience.

Molden D, De Fraiture C, Rijsberman F. Water scarcity: The food factor. Issues in Science & Technology [Internet]. 2007;23 :39-48. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The article cautions the public about the global water crisis. According to the article, there is enough water to grow food and provide drinking water for everybody but the problem lies in the quantity of water required for food production. People are not aware that the way they use water in agriculture is the most significant contributor to ecosystem degradation and water scarcity. The authors say that water professionals must communicate water concerns better and government institutions need to be more water-aware and make policies for efficient water management practices.

Rijsberman FR. Water scarcity: Fact or fiction?. Agricultural Water Management [Internet]. 2006;80 :5-22. Publisher's VersionAbstract

It is surprisingly difficult to determine whether water is truly scarce in the physical sense at a global scale (a supply problem) or whether it is available but should be used better (a demand problem). The paper reviews water scarcity indicators and global assessments based on these indicators. The most widely used indicator, the Falkenmark indicator, is popular because it is easy to apply and understand but it does not help to explain the true nature of water scarcity. The more complex indicators are not widely applied because data are lacking to apply them and the definitions are not intuitive. Water is definitely physically scarce in densely populated and areas, Central and West Asia, and North Africa, with projected availabilities of less than 1000 m(3)/capita/year. This scarcity relates to water for food production, however, and not to water for domestic purposes that are minute at this scale. In most of the rest of the world water scarcity at a national scale has as much to do with the development of the demand as the availability of the supply. Accounting for water for environmental requirements shows that abstraction of water for domestic, food and industrial uses already have a major impact on ecosystems in many parts of the world, even those not considered "water scarce". Water will be a major constraint for agriculture in coming decades and particularly in Asia and Africa this will require major institutional adjustments. A "soft path" to address water scarcity, focusing on increasing overall water productivity, is recommended. 

Fewtrell L. Water Sanitation, and Hygiene Interventions to Reduce Diarrhoea in Less Developed Countries: a Systematic Review and Metaanalysis. Lancet Infect Dis [Internet]. 2005;1 :42-52. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Measures of diarrhoea morbidity in non-outbreak conditions were pooled by meta-analysis as summary estimates of intervention effectiveness. All significantly reduced risk of diarrhoea (relative risk estimates were between 0.63 and 0.75). Water quality interventions (point-of-use water treatment) were very effective and multiple interventions (e.g. combined water, sanitation, and hygiene measures) were not more effective than single focus ones. This summary is not an official abstract. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract

Wu C, Maurer C, Wang Y, Xue S, Davis, D L. Water pollution and human health in China. Environmental Health Perspectives [Internet]. 1999;107 :251-256. Publisher's VersionAbstract

China's extraordinary economic growth, industrialization, and urbanization, coupled with inadequate investment in basic water supply and treatment infrastructure, have resulted in widespread water pollution. In China today approximately 700 million people--over half the population--consume drinking water contaminated with levels of animal and human excreta that exceed maximum permissible levels by as much as 86% in rural areas and 28% in urban areas. By the year 2000, the volume of wastewater produced could double from 1990 levels to almost 78 billion tons. These are alarming trends with potentially serious consequences for human health. This paper reviews and analyzes recent Chinese reports on public health and water resources to shed light on what recent trends imply for China's environmental risk transition. This paper has two major conclusions. First, the critical deficits in basic water supply and sewage treatment infrastructure have increased the risk of exposure to infectious and parasitic disease and to a growing volume of industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and algal toxins. Second, the lack of coordination between environmental and public health objectives, a complex and fragmented system to manage water resources, and the general treatment of water as a common property resource mean that the water quality and quantity problems observed as well as the health threats identified are likely to become more acute.


Gleick PH. Water in crisis: Paths to sustainable water use. Annual Review of Environment & Resources [Internet]. 2003;28 :275-314. Publisher's VersionAbstract

A wide range of ecological and human crises result from inadequate access to, and the inappropriate management of, freshwater resources. These include destruction of aquatic ecosystems and extinction of species, millions of deaths from water-related illnesses, and a growing risk of regional and international conflicts over scarce, shared water supplies. As human populations continue to grow, these problems are likely to become more frequent and serious. New approaches to long-term water planning and management that incorporate principles of sustainability and equity are required and are now being explored by national and international water experts and organizations. Seven “sustainability criteria” are discussed here, as part of an effort to reshape long-term water planning and management. Among these principles are guaranteed access to a basic amount of water necessary to maintain human health and to sustain ecosystems, basic protections for the renewability of water resources, and institutional recommendations for planning, management, and conflict resolution. “Backcasting” a positive future vision of the world’s water resources as a tool for developing rational policies and approaches for reducing water-related problems is also discussed in the context of the Comprehensive Freshwater Assessment prepared for the United Nations General Assembly in 1997.

Behailu M, Haile M. Water Harvesting in Northern Ethiopia: Environmental, Health and Socio-economic Impacts. Integrated Water and Land Management Research and Capacity Building Priorities for Ethiopia Workshop, International Livestock Research Institute; 2002. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In northern Ethiopia, water scarcity is a key factor in food security. Small-scale irrigation using micro-dams improved food security in Tigray but negative impacts included soil salinity and erosion. Additionally, malaria has become a growing concern in micro-dam areas at lower altitudes. Both positive and negative impacts of micro-dam water harvesting systems need to be well understood before up-scaling. This summary is not an official abstract. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract

Sl. P. Water for food production: Will there be enough in 2025?. BioScience [Internet]. 1998;48 :629-37. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Malthus’s famous essay postulating that human population growth would outstrip the earth’s food-producing capabilities. His writing sparked a debate that has waxed and waned over the last two centuries but has never disappeared completely. Stated simply, Malthus’s proposition was that because population grows exponentially while food supplies expand linearly, the former would eventually outpace the latter. He predicted that hunger, disease, and famine would result, leading to higher death rates. One of the missing pieces in Malthus’s analysis was the power of science and technology to boost land productivity and thereby push back the limits imposed by a finite amount of cropland. It was only in the twentieth century that scientific research led to marked increases in agricultural productivity. Major advances, such as the large-scale production of nitrogen fertilizers and the breeding of high-yielding wheat and rice varieties, have boosted crop yields and enabled food production to rise along with the world population (Dyson 1996). Between 1950 and 1995, human numbers increased by 122% (US Bureau of the Census 1996), while the area planted in grain expanded by only 17% (USDA 1996, 1997c). It was a 141% increase in grainland productivity, supplemented with greater fish harvests and larger livestock herds, that allowed food supplies to keep pace with population and diets for a significant portion of humanity to improve. Despite this remarkable success, concern about future food prospects has risen in recent years because of a marked slowdown in the growth of world grain yields, combined with an anticipated doubling of global food demand between 1995 and 2025 (McCalla 1994, FAO 1996). Whereas annual grain yields (expressed as threeyear averages) rose 2–2.5 % per year during every decade since 1950, they registered growth of only 0.7% per year during the first half of the 1990s (Brown 1997, USDA 1997a, 1997b). Excluding the former Soviet Union, where the political breakup and economic reforms led to large drops in productivity, global grain yields increased an average of 1.1% per year from 1990 to 1995, approximately one-half the rate of the previous four decades (Brown 1997). Today, the principal difference between those analysts projecting adequate food supplies in 2025 and those anticipating significant shortfalls is the assumed level of productivity growth—specifically, whether annual productivity over the next three decades is likely to grow at closer to the 1% rate of the 1990s or the 2–2.5% rate of the previous four decades. Water—along with climate, soil fertility, the choice of crops grown, and the genetic potential of those crops— is a key determinant of land productivity. Adequate moisture in the root zone of crops is essential to achieving both maximum yield and production stability from season to season. A growing body of evidence suggests that lack of water is already constraining agricultural output in many parts of the world (Postel 1996, UNCSD 1997). Yet to date, I am aware of no global food assessment that systematically addresses how much water will be required to produce the food supplies of 2025 and whether that water will be available where and when it is needed. As a result, the nature and severity of water constraints remain ill defined, which, in turn, is hampering the development of appropriate water and agricultural strategies. In this article, I estimate the volume of water currently consumed in producing the world’s food, how much additional water it will take to satisfy new food demands in 2025, and how much of this water will likely need to come from irrigation. I then place this expected irrigation demand in the context of global and regional water availability and trends. Finally, I discuss the policy and investment implications that emerge from the analysis.

Rosegrant MW, Ringler C, Zhu T. Water for agriculture: maintaining food security under growing scarcity. Annual Review of Environment & Resources [Internet]. 2009;34 :205-22. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Irrigated agriculture is the main source of water withdrawals, accounting for around 70% of all the world's freshwater withdrawals. The development of irrigated agriculture has boosted agricultural yields and contributed to price stability, making it possible to feed the world's growing population. Rapidly increasing nonagricultural demands for water, changing food preferences, global climate change, and new demands for biofuel production place increasing pressure on scarce water resources. Challenges of growing water scarcity for agriculture are heightened by the increasing costs of developing new water, soil degradation, groundwater depletion, increasing water pollution, the degradation of water-related ecosystems, and wasteful use of already developed water supplies. This article discusses the role of water for agriculture and food security, the challenges facing irrigated agriculture, and the range of policies, institutions, and investments needed to secure adequate access to water for food today and in the future.