New Report on Global Health Warns Environmental Degradation Is Contributing to Preventable Health Threats Worldwide

Apr 30, 1998, 01:00 ET from World Resources Institute

    WASHINGTON, April 30 /PRNewswire/ -- In the poorest regions of the world
 today, an estimated one in five children will not live to see their fifth
 birthday, primarily because of environmentally-related diseases.  This tragedy
 translates into 11 million childhood deaths globally (equal to the combined
 populations of Australia and New Zealand), mostly due to malaria, acute
 respiratory infections and diarrhea -- illnesses that are largely preventable.
     These are among the many sobering findings of a new report on health and
 the environment worldwide, released jointly by the World Resources Institute,
 a Washington, DC-based international environmental think tank, the United
 Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, and
 the World Bank.  The biennial World Resources Report is a comprehensive report
 on a range of global environmental trends.
     In a special section on "Environmental Change and Human Health," World
 Resources 1998-99, describes how, despite vast improvements in human health
 globally over the past several decades, with millions of people living longer,
 healthier lives, preventable illnesses and premature deaths are still
 occurring in shockingly large numbers in many regions of the world.  Consider
 the following:
     -- Almost 4 million children die each year of acute respiratory
        infections, linked with indoor air pollution (especially smoky cooking
        fuels) and outdoor air pollution (especially from industrialization).
        (see pages 1, 25, 62-67)
     -- Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease closely tied to environmental
        conditions, alone claims 1 to 3 million lives a year, most of them
        children.  (see pages 24-25, 48-49, 82-83)
     -- Another 2.5 million children die each year of diarrheal diseases,
        related to environmental conditions.  (see pages 19-21, 78-80)
     -- Cholera, long vanquished from Latin America, resurged in 1991 due to a
        combination of environmental and social factors, claiming some
        11,000 lives and causing an economic impact of an estimated
        $200 million in Peru alone. (see pages 22-23)
     -- In developing nations, there may be as many as 3.5 million to 5 million
        acute pesticide poisonings per year due to lack of protection during
        application, with millions more exposed to lower but still dangerous
        levels.  (see pages 42-46)
     While most of the above statistics assess conditions in the developing
 world, it would be incorrect to assume environmental threats to health in
 industrialized nations are not a concern.  In wealthier countries,
 environmental threats to health generally stem from industrial pollution (such
 as  air pollution or toxic wastes), along with biological threats such as food
 borne disease.  Indeed:
     -- More than 100 million people in Europe and North America are still
        exposed to unsafe air, and some air pollutants are proving more
        recalcitrant to control than expected.  (see pages 63-85)
     -- Asthma is rising dramatically throughout the developed countries, and
        environmental factors such as air pollution, allergens found in homes,
        and overcrowding, appear to be at least partly to blame.  (see pages
     -- Excessive use of fertilizers is disrupting coastal ecosystems, leading
        to harmful algal blooms and fish kills. (see pages 7, 46-47)
     -- Biological contamination is by no means a thing of the past, as shown
        by the 1993 outbreak of Crytosporidium in the United States city of
        Milwaukee.  (see pages 21-22)
     -- The extension of travel and trade is providing new opportunities for
        the spread or re-emergence of infectious diseases globally.  In the
        past two decades, some 30 "new" infectious diseases have emerged, such
        as Lyme disease, and rare hemorraghic fevers such as Ebola, while other
        previously controlled diseases have returned with a vengeance.  (see
        pages 3, 21, and 22)
     Most significantly, the report underscores how the burden of most
 preventable, environmentally related illnesses are borne disproportionately by
 the poor living in both developed and developing countries.  Indeed,
 1.3 billion of the "poorest poor" (one-fifth of the world's total population),
 who live on less than US$1 a day, and are increasingly unable to secure the
 bare necessities for a healthy life -- adequate food, water, clothing, shelter
 and health care -- are especially vulnerable to environmental threats.
     Because many of these environmental conditions are avoidable, prevention
 of health problems through environmental management, rather than simply
 treating diseases and ailments after they've occurred, is the salient message
 of this environment and health special section.  The report offers strategies
 for how governments, development agencies, policy making groups, private
 businesses, communities and individuals worldwide can slow and even halt
 further deterioration.  Preventive environmental strategies, the report
 explains, can yield multiple payoffs, not only in terms of reducing immediate
 and long-term health damages, but also in averting significant ecological
 disruption and accompanying economic costs.
     As the leaders of the four partner organizations write in their joint
 editorial:  "Many actions can be taken now that are practical, and
 cost-effective -- and are not being done.  Such actions include expanding
 access to water, sanitation, and hygiene education; ensuring that garbage is
 collected and disposed of properly; promoting the use of clean household
 fuels; and controlling the insect and animal vectors that carry diseases --
 especially the mosquitoes that transmit malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever,
 and other tropical illnesses."
     The World Resources Institute (WRI) is a Washington, DC-based center for
 policy research and technical assistance on global environmental and
 development issues.  It provides objective information and practical proposals
 for policy change that will foster environmentally sound development.
     The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) mission is to provide
 leadership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling
 nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that
 of future generations.
     The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the world's largest
 multilateral source of grant funding for development cooperation.  Through a
 worldwide network, UNDP works with governments to build developing countries'
 capacities for sustainable human development.
     The World Bank is a partner in opening markets and strengthening
 economies.  Its goal is to improve the quality of life and expand prosperity
 for people everywhere, especially the world's poorest.

SOURCE World Resources Institute