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Cutting environmental hazards can save 13 million lives each year – UN

Cutting environmental hazards can save 13 million lives each year – UN

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today that reducing environmental risks including pollution, unsafe water, ultraviolet radiation and climate change can save 13 million lives annually.

Releasing its first ever country-by-country analysis of the impact of environmental factors on health, WHO said that in some countries, more than one third of the disease burden could be prevented through environmental improvements. The worst-affected countries include Angola, Burkina Faso, Mali and Afghanistan.

“These country estimates are a first step towards assisting national decision-makers in the sectors of health and environment to set priorities for preventive action,” said Susanne Weber-Mosdorf, WHO Assistant Director-General for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments.

Quantifying the burden of disease from unhealthy environments is crucial because “this information is key to help countries select the appropriate interventions,” she added.

WHO found that in 23 countries, more than 10 per cent of deaths are due to just two environmental risk factors: unsafe water, including poor sanitation and hygiene, and indoor air pollution due to solid fuel use for cooking. Around the world, children under five are the main victims and make up 74 per cent of deaths due to diarrhoeal disease and respiratory infections.

The data showed that household interventions could dramatically reduce the death rate. Using cleaner fuel such as gas or electricity, using better cooking devices, improving ventilation or modifying people’s behaviour – for example by keeping children away from smoke – could have a major impact on respiratory infections and diseases.

While low-income countries suffer the most from environmental health factors, the data showed that no country is immune from the environmental impact on health, WHO said. Even in countries with better environmental conditions, almost one sixth of the disease burden could be prevented, and efficient environmental interventions could significantly reduce cardiovascular disease and road traffic injuries.