Cairo — The Arab region's best chance of facing the challenges of food insecurity, water scarcity and natural disasters lies in collaborating on environmental preservation, a study says.
The study, published in The Lancet (20 January), argues that current academic discussions about health, population and development in the Arab region fail to convey the true level of urgency.
Rather than speaking about security - as is common in much development parlance - the report argues that the Arab world is facing threats great enough to call into question its survival, and calls for "using survival as an analytical concept in studying the dynamics driving the threats".
Muna Abdel Aziz, a Sudanese consultant in public health medicine based at the Warrington Borough Council, United Kingdom, tells SciDev.Net that "the concept of survival indicates urgency whereas security does not necessarily convey this".
Ecological sustainability is a key issue because population-environment-development dynamics have an interactive relationship with health, the report says.
For example, environmental factors such as droughts can force urbanisation, and the city slums formed as a result can become a breeding ground for disease.
The paper adds that sufficient investment in disaster preparedness is beyond any single nation's capacity, making collaboration essential. Abbas El-Zein, lead author of the paper and an associate professor at the University of Sydney, Australia, tells SciDev.Net: "We are arguing that collaboration around ecological sustainability offers the best chance of success in dealing with issues such as water scarcity, food insecurity and emergency preparedness".
"Whether this collaboration is politically feasible or not is a harder question," says El-Zein.
But he suggests that the political upheaval in the region could offer a catalyst for change.
So healthcare in the region can improve, El-Zein calls on health professionals to play a leading role in informing the public, policymakers and politicians.
They can also start a public debate about the issues healthcare faces and the importance of integrating it with population, environment and development issues.
The report is part of a series of papers published by The Lancet titled Health in the Arab world: a view from within. The series is a collaboration between the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, the Institute of Community and Public Health of Birzeit University in the occupied Palestinian territory, and The Lancet.
Rita Giacaman, associate professor at Birzeit University, and a collaborator on the series, hopes that it will influence not only health policies but other related policies pertaining to the environment, employment, housing, social services and many more.
"What we want is for policymakers to pay attention to the evidence we are producing, and to use it as a tool for policies that would cater to people's health needs," Giacaman says.
The Lancet doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62338-7 (2014)