Health and environment officials from over 24 countries have committed to reducing the annual 12.6 million deaths due to pollution, the World Health Organisation and United Nations Environment Programme have said.
On the sidelines of the ongoing 22nd session of the Conference of Parties (COP22) here, the officials on Tuesday signed up to the declaration for health, environment and climate change.
The goal is to reduce pollution-related deaths through a new global initiative to promote better management of environmental and climate related risks to health.
According to WHO, around 12.6 million deaths a year are associated with environmental pollution.
Of these, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6 per cent) are due to air pollution.
“This landmark declaration has raised consensus for better articulation of our efforts to find a solution to major health, environmental and climate challenges,” Moroccan Environment Minister Hakima El Haite said in a statement.
“Together, we commit to ensuring that people — their livelihoods, well being, and particularly health — are at the centre of the response to climate change,” she said.
The declaration encourages the health and environment sectors to exchange experiences, technical expertise and best practices to enhance health and protect the environment. Global and comprehensive links between these two sectors do not yet exist.
Most pollution-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
However, outdoor air pollution remains prevalent in high-income countries as well, with nine out of 10 people worldwide exposed to air pollution that exceeds WHO air quality guidelines for fine particulate matter, it said.
Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities.
According to WHO, hundreds of thousands more deaths each year are due to direct climate change impacts, including heat waves, extreme weather emergencies, drought and increased diarrhoeal disease and vector borne disease transmission.
These deaths are projected to rise if climate change is not addressed.
For reducing the risk, Moroccan Health Minister El Houssaine Louardi said: “We know that most health risks from climate change are preventable.”
“By establishing this initiative we can work together on strengthening health systems, investing in disease prevention and common sense measures,” he said.
The declaration recognizes that well designed policies to protect the environment will result in reducing the global burden of disease attributable to the environment, as well as reducing the rising rate of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as stroke, heart disease, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases.
NCDs account for nearly two-thirds — or 8.2 million — of deaths associated with unhealthy environments.
“The devastating consequences of air pollution affect both the climate and health. They are seen everywhere from smog-encircled mega-cities to village dwellings filled with smoke from indoor cooking. Yet virtually all air pollution is man made and often excessive,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
“By working together, across sectors, and with partners, we can help ensure that people, their livelihoods, well being and particularly their health are at the center of the response to climate change,” she said.