One in four people die from poor environment

WHO declares one in four deaths occur due to air, water and soil pollution, unsafe roads and workplace stress

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Residents ride bicycles along a street amid heavy haze in Xingtai, Hebei province November 3, 2013.

One in four deaths worldwide are due to environmental factors like air, water and soil pollution, as well as unsafe roads and workplace stress, the World Health Organization announced on Tuesday.

In 2012 an estimated 12.6 million people died due to unhealthy living and working environments - 23 percent of all deaths.

"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," warned WHO chief Margaret Chan in a statement.

More than 100 diseases and injuries are linked to pollution, chemical exposure, climate change, ultraviolet radiation, as well as access to firearms according to the report.

"Out of 133 diseases or injuries 101 had significant links with the environment, 92 of which have been quantified, at least partially," the report claims.

"Disease can be prevented through healthier environments" was the clear message of the new global review.

A scavenger, surrounded by a flock of Greater Adjutant birds, collects plastic for recycling at a dump site on World Environment Day in the northeastern Indian city of Guwahati.

As many as 8.2 million of the deaths occur due to air pollution, including exposure to second-hand smoke, which causes heart disease, cancers and chronic respiratory disease, the report said.

Among the deaths attributed to environmental factors were 1.7 million caused by "unintentional injuries," including road accidents.

The report also counted 846,000 deaths from diarrhoreal disease among the environmental mortalities. Many of them are linked to pollution and unsafe drinking water.

Children under five years are most affected, with 26 percent of all child deaths being attributable to the environment, while in adults age 50 to 75 years between 24 percent and 26 percent of deaths are attributable to the environment, the report said.

The report found that most environmentally-linked deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, where 3.8 million such deaths took place in 2012. The Western Pacific followed the region with 3.5 million deaths. Africa was in third place with 2.2 million while Europe had 1.4 million environmentally-linked deaths.

The Americas were the least affected region with 847,000 deaths blamed on environmental conditions.

A woman wearing a protective mask makes her way in a business district on a heavily polluted day in Beijing, China, January 3, 2016.

According to the report the deaths of 1.7 million children under five who suffer from respiratory infections and diarrhoea could be prevented with better environmental management.

"There's an urgent need for investment in strategies to reduce environmental risks in our cities, homes and workplaces," said Maria Neira, the WHO's public health chief.

"Such investments can significantly reduce the rising worldwide burden of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, injuries and cancers, and lead to immediate savings in healthcare costs," she added.

The report is the second of its kind - a similar study was published by WHO a decade ago.

TRTWorld and agencies