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Environment behind nearly quarter of global deaths

By AFP

Added 15th March 2016 08:17 AM

As many as 8.2 million of the deaths could be blamed on air pollution, including exposure to second-hand smoke, which is responsible for heart disease, cancers and chronic respiratory disease

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This January 3, 2016 image captured by NASA’s Terra satellite shows thick haze hovering over the Indo-Gangetic Plain, from northern India (L) hugging the Himalayan range and down into the Bay of Bengal (bottom R). Air quality in northern India traditionally worsens in winter as the cooler air and fog traps pollutants and people start lighting fires, coupled with the year-round pollution causes such as vehicle traffic. NASA said the haze likely resulted from a "combination of urban and industrial pollution, agricultural and cooking fires, and a meteorological phenomenon known as a temperature inversion." AFP PHOTO / NASA

As many as 8.2 million of the deaths could be blamed on air pollution, including exposure to second-hand smoke, which is responsible for heart disease, cancers and chronic respiratory disease

One in four deaths worldwide are due to environmental factors like air, water and soil pollution, as well as unsafe roads and workplace stress, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

An estimated 12.6 million people died in 2012 as a result of living and working in unhealthy environments, 23 percent of all deaths reported globally, according to the new study.

"If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young," warned WHO chief Margaret Chan in a statement.

The report defines environmental causes broadly, drawing links between a long line of environmental risk factors like pollution, chemical exposure, climate change and ultraviolet radiation, as well as access to firearms and more than 100 diseases and injuries.

As many as 8.2 million of the deaths could be blamed on air pollution, including exposure to second-hand smoke, which is responsible for heart disease, cancers and chronic respiratory disease, the report said.

Among the deaths attributed to environmental factors were 1.7 million caused by "unintentional injuries", including road accidents.

The report also counted 846,000 diarrhoeal disease deaths among environmental mortalities, adding that many were linked to pollution and unsafe drinking water.

Road accidents, suicides

The WHO reported 246,000 deaths due to intentional injuries, including suicides, which it linked to the unsafe storage and access to firearms, as well as to pesticides -- used in a full third of the world's suicides -- among other factors.

The report found that most environmentally-linked deaths happened in Southeast Asia, which accounted for 3.8 million such deaths in 2012, followed by the Western Pacific region with 3.5 million.

The least affected region was the Americas, with 847,000 deaths blamed on environmental conditions.

Europe had 1.4 million environmentally-linked deaths while Africa reported 2.2 million.

The WHO said that better environmental management could prevent the deaths of 1.7 million children under five, who are especially prone to serious illnesses arising from respiratory infections and diarrhoea.

"There's an urgent need for investment in strategies to reduce environmental risks in our cities, homes and workplaces," said Maria Neira, WHO's public health chief.

"Such investments can significantly reduce the rising worldwide burden of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, injuries and cancers, and lead to immediate savings in healthcare costs," she said.

The report is the second of its kind and follows an initial WHO study a decade ago.

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