Quantifying environmental health impacts

Health is the key in motivating to solve environmental problems

Video message by Dr Maria Neira, Director, Public Health and Environment, World Health Organization

The benefits of the environment -- such as fresh water, clean air and a relatively stable climate - are essential to life, preventing disease and sustaining good health, Yet the benefits are not equally enjoyed. The livelihood of the vulnerable populations depends on this for their most basic needs. Yet we continue to damage the environment through irresponsible practice. Ongoing destruction of our environment seriously threatens our health.

Around a quarter of the burden of disease is associated with environmental risk factors. Diarrhoeal diseases, malaria, lower respiratory infections and certain cancers are examples of some of the most serious communicable and non communicable diseases that can significantly be attributed to "modifiable" environmental hazards. Of the 102 major diseases reported yearly in the World Health Report, 85 are partly caused by exposures to environmental risk factors.

Children suffer a disproportionate share of environmental health burden. Globally, the per capita number of healthy life years lost to environmental risk factor is 5 fold greater in children under 5 years than in the total population.

We have ways of preventing deaths and disease from these environmental hazards. Environmental health interventions can make valuable and sustainable contribution towards reducing the global burden of disease and improving the well-being of people everywhere. For example safe sanitation would break the vicious cycle of faecal-oral pathogens by preventing them gaining access to drinking-water, and help reduce other pollutants in the environment. Many interventions can be cost-effective and have benefits beyond improving people's health -- benefits such as helping alleviate poverty and reducing gender inequalities.

Health, and the economic returns of a better population health, is the key to motivate leaders in solving environmental problems. Threats to health — a matter of deep personal concern to everyone — have the power to galvanize in pursuit of environmental recovery.

I ask that we work together to build on existing programs, take concrete actions according to local needs, and to preventing disease through healthy environments. Preventive action for improving water quality, reduce indoor air pollution, safe management of pesticides or poisons, and reduce hazard for injuries in the environment exist. There is much we can do that will benefit us now — as well as future generations—if we work together.

Thank you.