Health is wealth. But the health of mother Earth and living beings are equally important. World Health Day is celebrated on 7 April every year to mark WHO's founding since 1950. The theme for this year is “Health for all”. Health comprises the aspects, including the quality of life determined by physical, chemical, biological, social and psychological factors affecting the present and future generations.
Our environment affects health in many aspects. Climate and weather affect human health. Health also depends on good quality food, safe drinking water and adequate shelter. Natural disasters like storms, hurricanes and floods kill many peoples. Unmanaged water triggers epidemics and numerous diseases.
The assumption that the only indicator of human progress is economic growth is not true. We expect urbanization and industrialization will bring in prosperity, but in the long run human value and environment are the priority.
Busy traffics lead to increase in respiratory diseases. Agriculture pesticides that enhance food production have affected both the farm workers and all of us who consume it. Modern medicine promised to solve many health problems but induce numerous side effects and resistant strains changing their behavior confusing us in creating newer antibiotics.
A clean environment is essential for human health and well-being. However, the interactions between the environment and health are highly complex and difficult to assess. The best-known health impacts are attributed from climate change, unsafe water and sanitation, vector-borne diseases, ambient air and indoor pollution, toxic hazards, loss of biodiversity, land degradation and environmental challenges.
Depletion of ozone layer also impacted global climate and human health, increasing the amount of UV radiation reaching the earth.
A better health status of society will bring about a better environment.
Every minute, five children in developing countries die from malaria or diarrhoea. Every hour, 100 more children die as a result of exposure to indoor pollution. Every day, almost 3000 people die from road injuries mainly to poor pedestrians. Every month, nearly 19000 people die from exposure to toxic chemicals and pesticides. Every year 7 million people across the world die due to exposure to chemical hazards and poor air quality.
Simply for preparing a meal, 4.3 million people mainly women and children die every year. Unsafe water or insufficient hygiene result in 3.5 million deaths worldwide, representing 25% of the deaths of children below 14 years.
WHO cautions, 250,000 additional deaths could potentially occur each year between 2030 and 2050 as a result of climate change.
Environmental degradation is estimated to cause 174–234 times as many premature deaths as occur in conflicts annually. Mental health issues also rank among the 10 largest non-fatal threats in most countries.
In India, one in every fifth child under the age of five dies due to diarrhea. Basic environmental needs do not reach over 1000 million people living in abject poverty. Heat waves also cause illness and death to elderly persons who are having heart or respiratory diseases.
Thus environmental hazards kill millions globally every year. But while the victims share in a common fate, their problems are not reflected in government policies and decisions.
Nature is one of the biggest resources for our production and consumption function. It provides land, energy, water, and raw materials; it also provides space to dump our waste. We use water and wind, we cultivate land and we extract oil, gas and other minerals. In a nutshell we need the nature as a resource for production and consumption but we never think their limitation. Such changes of nature give negative impact to our environment and ecosystems.
When the harvest exceeds the bearing capacity, it will affect the regeneration capacity. Population growth and the resources are being over-exploited,it will threaten environmental integrity and affects the health of every individual.
Similarly nature has the capacity to transform waste in useful materials. However when the composition and amount of waste exceeds the capacity of the nature to transform, the waste accumulates and changes the nature into a waste belt challenging the human health.
Economic inequality and environmental changes are closely connected to each other. Poor countries are unable to meet required emission standards to slow down climate change. They also bear the economic cost of lost productivity, the burden on the health, degraded resources and long-term social consequences.
Development strategies that do not incorporate ecological safeguards always lead to ill health and can’t promote healthy environment. Better health can only come from more sustainable environmental management.
Changing agriculture patterns away from harmful pesticides, herbicides and insecticides with alternatives like bio-pesticides will give positive health. There is need to change from using conventional to green energy like solar, wind and ocean power. Providing clean energy will lead to better health. Poverty is closely related to health and unhealthiness is the consequence of improper environmental management.
Zoonotic like COVID-19, Ebola, Swine flu, Bird Flu, Zika and Yellow fever linked to ecosystem disruption becoming for a major pandemics. Important ecosystem services such as pollination are lost challenging the food security and livelihood.
Finally, unless efforts are made to conserve our environment, the health of human and other living beings will never be safe and with celebration of World Health Day, we need to protect our environment for a bright and healthy future.
(The views expressed is personal)