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Deteriorating Environment, Major Threat to Health
Deteriorating environmental conditions have become a major contributory factor to poor health and the prevalence of many diseases, with almost one third of global diseases causing by environmental degradation.

The serious situation aroused big attention from the delegates at a plenary session on health of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) opened Monday at Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg.

Health, one of five priorities for the 10-day WSSD alongside with energy, water, agriculture and biodiversity, tops the official sessions of the summit.

Highlighting the important links between health and environment, Norwegian Environment Minister Borge Brende said a third of global diseases were caused by environmental degradation and that one in five children in poor segments of societies unable to reach the age of five mainly due to air and water pollution.

More than 2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die each year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene, such as diarrhea, cholera, malaria and measles.

Sixty percent of the 2.2 million deaths a year in children under five caused by acute respiratory infections are associated with indoor air pollution, lack of adequate heating and other unsanitary living conditions.

Toxic chemicals and other hazardous materials are basic elements of development, but also pollutants adversely affecting human health and the environment, especially where they could be accumulated up the food chain or transported long distances over the globe.

Scientists even found the hazardous materials in the bodies of polar bears and penguins in the Pole regions.

According to the UN, climate change inflicted by global warming, also have an impact on health by spreading the geographical range of malarial mosquitoes.

"Environmental health issues tended to fall between the cracks," said World Bank health director Robert Hecht, calling for more money to put in provision of clean infrastructure and more steps to take in tackling emerging health threats.

He said the bank now listed smoking as a new epidemic that must be tackled before it leads to "enormous health damage" in developing countries in the next 10 to 15 years.

The delegates were also very much concerned with the vicious cycle facing the human beings with environmental degradation causing poor health, poor health leading to poverty, which in turn damages the environment.

The summit must show that political will could be harnessed in Johannesburg to address the challenges related to health, poverty and environment, said the Norwegian environment minister.

Health was a key determinant of economic growth and sustainable development, the representative of the European Union said, adding that bad health was both a cause and an effect of poverty.

World Health Organization Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland has pointed out that HIV prevalence rates of 10 to 15 percent can translate into a reduction in growth rate of GDP per capital of up to one percent a year.

"Africa's GDP would probably be about US$100 billion more now if malaria had been tackled 30 years ago, when effective control measures first became available," added the director-general.

When recalling the achievement of the past decade after the RioSummit, David Nabarro, director of the Sustainable Development and Healthy Environment of the World Health Organization, said one of the most recent realizations had been that people and peoples' health were essential to sustainable development.

"Good health for all was vital for the planet," he said, calling on all groups and all sectors to contribute to the area of health.

(Xinhua News Agency August 27, 2002)

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