The second edition of the WHO “Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks” reveals that, in 2012, ~12.6 million people (nearly 1 in 4 people globally) died due to unhealthy environmental conditions in places where they live and work. Of the 12.6 million, about 8.2 million deaths could be attributed to non-communicable diseases, linked primarily to air pollution. A concomitant decrease in deaths due to infectious diseases such as diarrhea and malaria has been observed and is attributed to improved access to clean water and sanitation. The largest burden of mortality due to environmental risks is observed in South East Asia, Africa and Western Pacific regions.
Environmental risks pose a serious threat to children and older adults. Nearly 1.7 million children die each year and the main causes of death among children under 5 are lower respiratory infections such as a pneumonia. However, majority of the 4.9 million deaths among adults 50-79 years of age are due to NCDs linked to environmental hazards.
There is no doubt that unfavorable environmental conditions exist in low-income neighborhoods and disproportionately affects vulnerable populations and communities. Steps taken to prevent deaths due to environmental risk factors must benefit everyone and must include strong working relations with other sectors. Environmental health interventions could have a broader impact on the well-being and health of people worldwide by preventing diseases before they even occur.