Environmental problems, like pollution and chemicals, are not just inconveniences of modern life.
The report “Healthy Environment, Healthy People” from the United Nations Environment Program (Unep) says the problems have become major public health issues.
“Environmental impacts are responsible for the deaths of more than one quarter of all children under the age of five,” the report says.
Environmental degradation and pollution cause up to 234 times more premature deaths than conflicts.
The report says that in 2012, about 12.6 million deaths, or 23 percent of the total, were attributable to deteriorating environmental conditions.
The highest proportion of these deaths occurred in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific regions, which include the Philippines—28 percent and 27 percent of the total, respectively.
Unep executive director Achim Steiner says that by destroying the environment and increasing pollution, humans are paying an “ever-growing cost” in health and well-being.
Deaths related to noncommunicable diseases, which include heart problems and cancers, are rising in all regions of the world. Three quarters of people who died from noncommunicable diseases in 2012 lived in low- and middle-income countries.
Some causes of environmental health-related problems are ecosystem disruption, climate change, inequality, unplanned urbanization, unhealthy and wasteful lifestyles, and unsustainable consumption and production patterns.
Climate change alone, the World Health Organization estimates, can result in 250,000 additional deaths each year between 2030 and 2050, mostly from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.
Women and children
The report also mentions:
Air pollution kills 7 million people across the world each year. Of these deaths, 4.3 million, particularly among women and young children in developing countries, are due to household air pollution.
Lack of access to clean water and sanitation results in 842,000 deaths from diarrheal diseases every year, 97 percent of which occur in developing countries. Diarrheal diseases are the third leading cause of death (20 percent of all deaths) in children younger than five.
Contaminated water is identified as the main cause of the current outbreak of gastro-intestinal disorders in Zamboanga City and Sulu.
Exposure to chemicals kills thousands. Some 107,000 people die annually from exposure to asbestos, and 654,000 died from exposure to lead in 2010.
Natural disasters killed 606,000 and left 4.1 billion people injured, homeless or in need of emergency assistance as a result of weather-related disasters since the first UN Climate Change Conference in 1995.
To avoid, if not eliminate, the harmful effects of environmental problems, the report recommends:
Detoxify. Remove harmful substances from and/or mitigate their impact in places where people live and work.
Decarbonize. Reduce the use of carbon fuels and emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) by using renewable energy.
Reduce resource use and change lifestyles. Generate less waste and less pollution.
Enhance ecosystem resilience and protection of the planet’s natural systems. Build the capacity of the environment, economies and societies to anticipate, respond to and recover from disturbances and shocks through protection and conservation of genetic diversity and terrestrial, coastal and marine biodiversity; strengthening ecosystem restoration, and reducing pressures from livestock production and logging.
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