Rio+20 : A breath of fresh air

Published on: Last updated:

Doctor Maria Neira explains how link between health and the environment has evolved since 1992/

What is the relationship between the health and the environment?

Over 20 years, we have gathered a lot of scientific studies that establish the link between health and the environment in many ways. The WHO now estimates that 25 % of mortality is linked to an environmental risk.

What is the main problem?

The most recent WHO studies estimate that 1.3 million people die every year from urban outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution causes the premature death of 2 million people, especially women and small girls who are more exposed as they often stay at home and they are more likely to be in charge of the cooking and heating. These figures have increased since 1990. Air pollution is also responsible for babies being born below the average weight and for the increased frequency of digestive system cancers, cardiovascular disease and cataracts. With all the data we have gathered, there are no more excuses for not taking action.

Isn’t this increase due to improved methods of pathology detection?

Population growth and urbanisation mean that more and more people are exposed to air pollution because of increased energy consumption and the higher number of cars. This has led to an increased number of victims. At the same time, we have discovered new evidence about the effects of this pollution. We have now linked it to diseases which we formerly did not think about; factors like these affect the results.

Apart from air pollution, which other major pollutions constitute a health threat ?

There are several forms of pollution. There are POPs, asbestos and mercury that Europe wants to ban from medical products. There are also heavy metals such as lead in paint or batteries which are found in children’s bloodstreams in many countries. Over the last two decades, the problem of electronic waste has also emerged. Access to water and lack of sanitation are still major issues. Exposure to ultraviolet rays poses a more geographically confined public health problem. Half a million people die from melanomas caused by exposure to UV rays.

What needs to be done?

The positive relationship between a clean environment and good health should be highlighted. By replacing cars with a public transport system, air pollution is limited and so are deaths caused by accidents. Cities become more pleasant and people are therefore more likely to walk or ride a bicycle which would reduce obesity. With well-thought out urban planning, certain illnesses can be prevented. Northern European countries have already shown results in this field.

Media Query: