Environment issues causing a quarter of world's deaths: WHO

news
17 March 2016

The United Nations World Health Organization has put the number of people estimated to have died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment at a staggering 12.6 million. In other words, one in four deaths worldwide is caused by unhealthy living or working conditions.

That number underscores the devastating impact of the chemicals and waste we've been putting into the air, water and earth since the end of World War II.

The WHO said deaths due to non-communicable diseases - which include heart disease and cancer and are related to exposure to pollution - now make up 8.2 million or nearly two-thirds of the total deaths. Deaths from infectious diseases such as malaria and diarrhea due to unsafe water and lack of sanitation represent one-third and are on the decline.

"If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young," WHO director-general Margaret Chan said.

The report is part of an effort by world leaders over the past year to inform the public of the close link between seemingly theoretical issues like climate change to something an individual can relate to - their own health.

In March last year, the director of China's meteorological administration gave a speech that was widely shared on social media in the country warning of the "severe threat" of climate change on the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and those that afflict children who play in infected waters.

In the United States, President Barak Obama convened a summit on health and climate change in June. "We know climate change is not a distant threat, we are already seeing impacts in communities across the country," the White House said, citing the rising rates of asthma in the United States.

In India, one of the worst affected countries nothing, as Budget after Budget puts environmental issues on the back burner, and policy makers seek to shirk responsibility by pointing the finger at developed countries.

In December, countries including India joined together to ratify a universal pact to slow global warming - the most ambitious ever undertaken.

In 2013, a MIT study estimated an annual fatality rate 200,000 people in the US alone.

While every corner of the world has been impacted by changes in the environment, those in low- and middle-income countries in Asia that are manufacturing hubs are the worst affected. The WHO's South-East Asia Region, which includes India and Bangladesh, and its Western Pacific Region, which includes China, had 7.3 million of the total deaths.

Most of the environment-related deaths were due to cardiovascular diseases, including stroke and heart disease, according to the report. Here's a breakdown:

  • Stroke 2.5 million deaths annually
  • Ischaemic heart disease 2.3 million deaths annually
  • Unintentional Injuries (eg road traffic deaths) 1.7 million deaths annually
  • Cancers 1.7 million deaths annually
  • Chronic Respiratory Diseases 1.4 million deaths annually
  • Diarrheal Diseases 846,000 deaths annually
  • Respiratory Infections 567,000 deaths annually
  • Neonatal Conditions 270,000 deaths annually
  • Malaria 259,000 deaths annually
  • Intentional injuries (eg suicides) 246,000 deaths annually

 





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