Photo of a man diving into the Ganga river was taken by Sudipto Das, WHO (2007)
September 26th is World Environmental Health Day, and this year the theme is protecting the environment for the health and safety of children. The evidence connecting environmental health with population health are well documented. Some of the most vulnerable groups to be affected by hazardous environmental exposures are children, with 3 million children under the age of five die every year as a result of environmental related diseases. These include diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections, often attributable to contamination and pollution within their own domestic environments.
The exhaustion and contamination of many natural resources and habitats is becoming more detrimental with the steady rise of human activity and industrial growth along its banks. In the case of the Ganga river basin, it is a source for more than 600 million people and their waste. The sewage that flows into the river is largely from untreated domestic (70-80%) and industrial (15%) waste.
While the Ganga may be an extreme example, these environmental issues extend worldwide. A recent report from the Chief Inspector of Drinking Water in the UK explores the impact of austerity cuts on local water supply contamination and subsequent health risks.
Another disturbing source of environmental health risk is indoor air pollution and household energy. Exposure to such pollutants is highest among children and women. Ensuring access to clean, efficient energy sources and technologies are part of a group of relevant health indicators and broader global sustainable development agenda.
Notable Efforts & Organisations:
The Irish Doctors Environmental Association is a charity concerned with forging the link between ecological and human health systems.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health projects a professional platform for environmental health, offering evidence-based information to guide policy makers and health practitioners. Check out the latest on environmental protection in their online publication of Environmental Health News.
Among other things, MedAct is an organisation that recognizes the critical role for progressive health professionals and activists in climate and environmental protection.
The Environmental Health Association of Ireland also focuses efforts on training professionals and educating youth about environmental and public health matters.
Along with providing evidence based summaries and recommendations for the improvement of environmental risk and contamination, the WHO has listed 10 chemicals that are of major public health concern.
How to get involved:
According to the International Federation of Environmental Health, individual and local efforts can help contribute to the reduction of environmental exposures and risks such as environmental tobacco smoke, diet and nutrition intake, waste management; including becoming more conscious about the chemical contaminants and pollutants we consume and produce in our home and surrounding environments. While on a global level, advocating for change in sustainable energy policy and action will contribute to reducing risk of unsafe environmental exposure and improving the health of populations for generations to come.