Earth is the only place with perfect conditions for human existence. Nature supplies absolutely everything for our physical and mental well-being. With the human population increasing at an unprecedented rate over the past century, nature exploitation has also reached unsustainable levels; so high that many natural resources and living creatures are now at the verge of complete extinction. Sustainable development has not always been a priority and as a result, we live in polluted or even contaminated environment that harms our own health. Many health problems and deaths around the world as a consequence of unhealthy environments could be preventable or drastically reduced through efforts put into better environmental quality. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we understand and take action to protect our environmental health.
Environmental Health Matters
We live in a world with quite unlimited options for living. Naturally, some people have more options in deciding where to live than others. The leading criteria for the best places to live usually include affordability, job opportunities, home value, proximity to family and friends, safety, good schools, and climate and weather conditions. However, it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that people started to realise how air pollution could cause a dent in the atmosphere. Basically, that was the beginning of an academic discipline created to try to understand the environmental threats mostly caused by human activities and their consequences on the environment and also to find a way to reduce the negative impact on nature and maintain the Earth in the best possible condition for the generations to come.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines public health as “the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts of society.” Public health thus involves the protection of the health and well-being of the whole population. These populations can be represented by smaller local neighbourhoods, larger regions, or even the entire world.
The quality of the environment we live in is affecting us every day without us even realising it. The food we eat, the place we live in, and the community we interact with on daily basis all affect our physical and mental well-being. This is a part of a broad area of study called ‘Environmental Health’, a discipline that – as the name suggests – speaks for every aspect of the environment that can influence our health.
6 Sources Responsible For Environmental Health Issue
1. Air Pollution
Pollutants are a mixture of natural and manmade elements, molecules, and particles with an undesired effect on human health. Breathing air polluted by nearby factories or heavy traffic affects the lungs and heart, causing asthma and even increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. According to World Health Organization (WHO), 600,000 children die every year from infections of the respiratory system caused by air pollution. 9 out of 10 people breathe polluted air which results in almost 9 million deaths annually.
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2. Water Contamination
Access to clean water is a common human right but unfortunately, it is still a privilege for many. 780 million people in the world lack access to safe drinking water and a stunning 2.5 billion people, equivalent to almost one-third of the world’s population, do not have access to acceptable sanitation services as simple as bathrooms. Over 2,000 children die daily due to diseases linked to non-adequate water and sanitation.
3. Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste
Toxic substances can be found in discarded materials with properties that can cause harm to the environment and human health, such as heavy metals or chemicals. Such waste is often stored in landfills or simply thrown away as rubbishcontaminating the environment. Man-made production of chemicals has increased drastically between 1930 and 2000, from one million to approximately 400 million tons a year and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. An average human absorbs around 300 man-made chemicals and according to WHO, exposure to them leads to more than 1.6 million deaths annually.
4. Climate Change and Natural Disaster
Climate change is the biggest single human health threat of the 21st century. Increasing global temperature and changes in rain patterns, which result in extreme weather events such as cyclones, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfire have catastrophic effects on entire communities and infrastructure, in many cases resulting in loss of lives. A very well-remembered earthquake in Haiti in 2010, which lasted just about 30 seconds, cost more than 160,000 lives, with many more injured or affected.
5. Infrastructure Issues
Infrastructure represents one of the main pillars of high-quality life. Healthcare centres and hospitals should be integrated into the wider community. Yet, local, state, and federal governments must allocate more resources in order to overcome infrastructure problems and must make this a priority.
Better infrastructure naturally comes with better access to health care. As Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director–General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said: “It is completely unacceptable that half the world still lacks coverage for the most essential health services.”
The Danger of An Unhealthy Environment
As Anne Stauffer, director for Strategy and Campaigns of the European not-profit Health and Environmental Alliance (HEAL) rightly says: “There is not that much of a difference between 2012 and 2020, in fact, the urgency to tackle environmental pollution and climate change has only increased.” She also highlights that “one root cause of the problem is that our whole way of production, consumption and way of life is based on fossil fuels.”
A 2019 report by the European Environment Agency found that heatwaves are the deadliest type of extreme weather in Europe. It also reveals that, under current global warming scenario, the death toll due to heatwaves could be higher than 130,000 per year. Other statistics suggest that 23% of all deaths (26% of deaths of children aged 0-5) are utterly preventable environmental health problems.
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What Can We Do to Enhance Environmental Health?
- Afforestation: More plants and trees to help absorb carbon dioxide and reduce its content in the atmosphere, helps build new ecosystems, helps with the wood demand
- Reduce the Use of Plastics: Plastic waste makes up 80% of all marine pollution. Researchers worry that by 2050, plastic might even outweigh all fish in the sea.
- Practice Sustainable or Regenerative Agriculture: Regenerative agriculture and other methods of sustainable farming help cut emissions and boost soil health. Agriculture is responsible for 80% of the soil degradation in Europe alone. With unhealthy soils, there will be not enough food of sufficient quality for the increasing population.
- Electric Cars: Electric cars are not only a great alternative to gasoline-powered cars but they can also reduce a car’s carbon footprint by up to 70%. Additionally, these types of vehicles do not produce the same exhaust noise level as gasoline cars, which can help in very populated areas where noise pollution is a concern already.
- Rainwater Collection: Harvesting rainwater helps manage stormwater runoff and prevents erosion, flooding, and poor water quality in water bodies. Using rainwater as a source for irrigation helps replenish groundwater supplies.
- Energy Saving: Simple switching to energy-saving bulbs can reduce electricity used in homes anywhere between 25-80%. Adopting this and other energy-saving practices, significantly decreases our reliance on fossil fuels, which still represent the major source of energy around the world
- Reducing Industrial Emissions and Waste: Earth will become uninhabitable if fossil fuel emissions do not decrease quickly. The majority of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years has originated from human activities.
Environmental health has never been more important. All we need to do is to care about our planet. Many might feel too little to stop the climate change or environmental tragedies, but there are numerous ways we can help and be part of this change. To live longer and to enhance the quality of people’s life, supporting a healthy environment is essential.
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