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Pollution leading cause of premature deaths, says UN

By Protus Onyango | May 24th 2016 | 2 min read
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner (centre), Clever Mafuta (author of the Africa Report) and UNEP’s Chief Scientist Jacqueline McGlade during the launch of the ‘Healthy Environment, Healthy People’ report in Nairobi. According to a new United Nations report, environmental impacts are responsible for the deaths of more than one quarter of all children under the age of five. (PHOTO: PROTUS ONYANGO/ STANDARD)

Environmental degradation and pollution are estimated to cause up to 234 times as many premature deaths as those caused by conflicts annually.

According to a new United Nations report, environmental impacts are responsible for the deaths of more than one quarter of all children under the age of five.

The report was released yesterday at the second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2). Titled 'Healthy Environment, Healthy People' it highlights the importance of a healthy environment in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and explores the dangers posed by air pollution, chemicals, climate change and other issues linking environmental quality to human health and well-being.

"By depleting the ecological infrastructure of our planet and increasing our pollution footprint, we incur an ever-growing cost in terms of human health and well-being. From air pollution and chemical exposure to the mining of our natural resource base, we have compromised our life support systems," said United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) Executive Director Achim Steiner.

He added: "A healthier planet is a rising tide that lifts all boats, including human health but also economies and societies. By grounding development and progress in environmental health, we safeguard our own well-being."

The report that was published by Unep and WHO among others finds that in 2012, an estimated 12.6 million deaths were attributable to deteriorating environment conditions or 23 per cent of the total.

The highest proportion of deaths attributable to the environment occurs in South-East Asia and in the Western Pacific (respectively 28 per cent and 27 per cent of the total burden). The number of deaths attributable to the environment is 23 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, 22 per cent in the Eastern Mediterranean region and 11 per cent and 15 per cent respectively in Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and non-OECD countries in the Americas region. 15 per cent of deaths occur in Europe.

Deaths related to non-communicable diseases are rising in all regions. Three quarters of people who died from non-communicable diseases in 2012 lived in low and middle-income countries.

The report also points to the drivers of environmental health-related impacts to include ecosystem disruption, climate change, inequality, unplanned urbanisation, unhealthy and wasteful lifestyles and unsustainable consumption .

The report noted that lack of access to clean water and sanitation resulted in 842,000 deaths from diarrhoea, with 97 per cent of the cases happening in developing countries.

Chemical exposure kills 107,000 people annually and 654,000 died from lead exposure in 2010.

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