Environment: Pollution Causes 12.6 Million Deaths a Year

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO and Mr. Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. Photo: UNEP
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO and Mr. Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. Photo: UNEP

UN Environment (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have agreed for a new collaboration to check environmental health risks that cause an estimated 12.6 million deaths a year.

Mr. Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, signed an agreement on Wednesday in Nairobi to step up joint actions to combat air pollution, climate change and antimicrobial resistance, as well as improve coordination on waste and chemicals management, water quality, and food and nutrition issues.

The collaboration also includes joint management of the BreatheLife advocacy campaign to reduce air pollution for multiple climate, environment and health benefits.

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Although the two agencies cooperate in a range of areas, this represents the most significant formal agreement on joint action across the spectrum of environment and health issues in over 15 years.

“There is an urgent need for our two agencies to work more closely together to address the critical threats to environmental sustainability and climate – which are the foundations for life on this planet. This new agreement recognizes that sober reality,” said UN Environment’s Solheim.

“Our health is directly related to the health of the environment we live in. Together, air, water and chemical hazards kill some 12.6 million people a year. This cannot and must not continue,” said WHO’s Tedros.

He added: “Most of these deaths occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America where environmental pollution takes its biggest health toll.”

The new collaboration creates a more systematic framework for joint research, development of tools and guidance, capacity building, monitoring of Sustainable Development Goals, global and regional partnerships, and support to regional health and environment fora.

The two agencies will develop a joint work programme and hold an annual high-level meeting to evaluate progress and make recommendations for continued collaboration.

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Rakesh Raman