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 30-31) -- 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