Environment and health in developing countries

Health, environment and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

Promoting environmental sustainability is therefore a means of addressing both poverty and ill health. That is reflected in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – approved by the UN General Assembly in the year 2000 – which set global goals and specific targets for sustainable development, improvement of health, and poverty reduction.

MDG 7 calls upon nations to "ensure environmental sustainability". Targets identified as part of MDG-7 include:

  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.
  • Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
  • Achieve, by 2020, a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

Addressing the root environmental causes of disease is vital not only to the achievement of MDG-7, but also may play an important role in the achievement of other Millennium Development Goals. A few examples of such linkages are noted below.

MDG 1 – Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger. Integrated environment and health policy can reduce the impact of vector-borne disease in irrigated agricultural areas, improving farmer performance overall (20) (21) (22). Better agriculture practice in relation to pesticide use, management of livestock and their waste, as well as improved land and water conservation practices, can increase agricultural yields and improve food security, as well as health (23) (24).

MDG 4 – Reduce Child Mortality. Shifting to cleaner household fuels and/or to improved cook stoves can reduce indoor air pollution, and thus have a direct impact on child mortality from acute respiratory disease, a key childhood killer (2). Improved water and sanitation provision as well as better household water management can potentially have an impact on childhood mortality and morbidity both from diarrhoeal and vector-borne diseases (2) (25).

MDGs 3 and 5 – Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women/Improve Maternal Health. More sustainable agricultural policy and practices, can yield benefits for women – both in their capacity as cultivators/food providers and as mothers – in terms of improved food security and in terms of reduced exposures to agro-chemicals (8) (23) (26). Shifting to cleaner household fuels and/or improved cook stoves can reduce the risks of chronic respiratory diseases in women, who in their capacity as mothers and caregivers are responsible for most food preparation as well as for time-consuming fuel collection (2).