Smart pollution policy and global equality could save millions

Two Cornell experts comment on the World Health Organization’s report showing an estimated 12.6 million deaths each year (roughly one in four) are attributable to diseases caused by living in unhealthy environments affected by factors such as air pollution, chemicals, and climate change. The report explains that while deaths from infectious diseases have declined, deaths caused by non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory disease can be attributed largely to air pollution and account for nearly 8.2 million deaths yearly.


Alex Travis: We must ensure our environment remains healthy through policy changes

Travis is the faculty director for the environment at Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, director of the Cornell Center for Wildlife Conservation, and associate professor of reproductive biology and wildlife conservation at Cornell’s Baker Institute for Animal Health at the College of Veterinary Medicine.



Travis says:

“These statistics highlight how much human health depends on the health of the environment. This is a principle we call ‘One Health.’ The health of humans, animals and the environment all depend on each other. In order for people to remain healthy, we must ensure that our environment remains healthy.

“Preventing human deaths caused by unhealthy environments — those with poor air and water quality, those severely impacted by climate change, those with unsustainable agricultural practices — cannot be approached simply from the traditional medical perspective. We need to tackle these from a One Health and public health approach so that we address the underlying causes of these illnesses as opposed to simply treating symptoms in individual patients.

“These deaths are due to factors that are largely preventable through policy change, often involving multiple countries and diverse disciplinary expertise. To solve these problems, it is important to create integrated policies that address the environment, energy and economic development as a whole and not as independent elements. If air pollution is a leading cause of death, we need to invest in strategies that reduce that environmental risk.”


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Wendy Wolford: Poor countries have much to fear from air and water pollution

Wolford is an associate professor in development sociology and an international professor as a field member in Latin American Studies and International Agriculture and Rural Development. Wolford has published widely and is the faculty director of economic development in Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.





Wolford says:

“Economic growth particularly in developing countries has too often been achieved at the expense of human health and wellbeing – rapid urbanization and industrialization have resulted in dirty air, water and soil that is silently killing an increasing number of people every day. What are called non-communicable diseases – as opposed to infectious diseases – can be split into two distinct categories: rich and poor.

“People from rich countries die of non-communicable diseases like cancer and diabetes, while people in poor countries — as the report points out — die of non-communicable diseases such as air and water pollution.

“Within poor country non-communicable diseases, there is a further split: in some countries, such as South, Southeast and East Asia, we could label the epidemic one of rapid, reckless growth: industrialization and rapid urbanization are poisoning the water and air in countries once considered to be paragons of development, known as the Asian Tigers; while in other regions, particularly Sub Saharan Africa, the non-communicable diseases epidemic is one of immense poverty, tainted water and degraded lands.


“Overall, these new forms of pollution and death are directly related to poverty and global inequality.”




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