Document Type

Journal Article


Oxford University Press


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Ecosystem Management




This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of: Parkes, M., & Horwitz, P. (2009). Water, ecology and health: Ecosystems as settings for promoting health and sustainability . Health Promotion International, 24(1), 94-102. Available here


Despite the proposed ecological and systems-based perspectives of the settings-based approach to health promotion, most initiatives have tended to overlook the fundamental nature of ecosystems. This paper responds to this oversight by proposing an explicit re-integration of ecosystems within the healthy settings approach. We make this case by focusing on water as an integrating unit of analysis. Water, on which all life depends, is not only an integral consideration for the existing healthy settings (schools, hospitals, workplaces) but also highlights the ecosystem context of health and sustainability. A focus on catchments (also know as watersheds and river basins) exemplifies the scaled and upstream/downstream nature of ecosystems and draws into sharp focus the cross-sectoral and transdisciplinary context of the social and environmental determinants of health. We position this work in relation to the converging agendas of health promotion and ecosystem management at the local, regional and global scales—and draw on evidence from international initiatives as diverse as the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health, and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Using water as a vehicle for understanding the systemic context for human wellbeing, health promotion and disease prevention draws inevitable attention to key challenges of scale, intersectoral governance and the complementary themes of promoting resilience and preventing vulnerability. We conclude by highlighting the importance of building individual and institutional capacity for this kind of integration—equipping a new generation of researchers, practitioners and decision-makers to be conversant with the language of ecosystems, capable of systemic thought and focused on settings that can promote both health and sustainability



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