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Wealth and health of poor depends on biodiversity, says UN

Biodiversity is spotlighted this year as the United Nations named 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity, warning that the loss of species will endanger the world's population. Launched today in Berlin, by German chancellor Angela Merkel, the global event aims to face the global extinction crisis head on and safeguard endangered species before it is too late. With commentators dubbing it the big opportunity for governments to do for biodiversity what they failed to do for climate change in Copenhagen, international activities will aim to promote biodiversity, highlighting that "all life on earth depends upon species, ecosystems and natural resources". Humans rely on the diversity of life for the food, fuel, medicine and other essentials needed for life. But the United Nations says this rich diversity is being lost faster than ever before because of human activities, such as the expansion of cities, farming and infrastructure.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to say through a video message that human expansion is wiping out species at about 1,000 times the "natural" or "background" rate, and that "business as usual is not an option". The UN says that as natural systems such as forests and wetlands disappear, humanity loses the services they currently provide for free, such as the purification of air and water, protection from extreme weather events and the provision of materials for shelter and fire.

Though the general trend is worrying, Ahmed Djoghlaf, the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that he was confident significant change could be made. “Humans are part of nature's rich diversity and have the power to protect or destroy it ... the variety of life on Earth, is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us all with health, wealth, food, fuel and the vital services our lives depend on."Human activity is causing the diversity of life on Earth to be lost at a greatly accelerated rate. These losses ... impoverish us all and damage the life support systems we rely on every day,” said Djoghlaf. “But we can prevent them.”

After today’s official launch of the campaign in Berlin, the first major event of the International Year of Biodiversity is on January 21 in a high-profile meeting at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is expected to bring together heads of state and their representatives. More events will follow throughout the year in cities around world such as Trondheim, New Delhi, Doha, Cartagena, Shanghai and Nairobi. The Year will end with a high-level meeting at UN headquarters in New York.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children