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Economic and Development Dimensions of Environmental Risk Factors to Human Health

1. African countries are experiencing heavy disease burdens, growing economic and health impacts of environmental degradation, and rapid urbanization and modernization. Some of the most pressing environmental and health problems on the continent may be alleviated through careful development choices or exacerbated by poorly designed policies.
2. The health and environment sectors have had to cope with the consequences of poorly-conceived economic development policies, while having little influence on national development agendas, which profoundly shape the natural environment.
3. Industrial and agricultural production has intensified in most African countries, accompanied by the use of chemical inputs. The OECD (2001) has estimated that the global output of chemicals in 2020 will be 85% higher than it was in 1995; by that time nearly one-third of the world’s chemical production will be taking place in nonOECD countries, compared to about one-fifth in 1995. The shift of chemical production from more affluent to poorer settings could increase the overall health and environment risks arising from the production and use of chemicals. In many African countries, chemicals that are banned in developed countries are still in use. A range of toxic effluents are emitted directly into the soil, air and water from agriculture and industrial processes, often at levels well in excess of global maximum permissible limits. Along with the problem of acute poisonings, cumulative exposure to various chemicals and toxins contributes towards a range of chronic illnesses in humans.
4. Over the next 30 years, most of the world’s population growth will occur in the urban areas of poor countries. Rapid, unplanned and unsustainable urban development is turning developing-country cities into hotspots of emerging environmental and health hazards. These hazards include urban poverty, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, air pollution and traffic fatalities.
5. Environmental risks are largely the result of unsustainable policies related to water resources, agriculture, land use (urban and rural), transport and energy. The health impacts from environmental pollution and ecosystem degradation are borne to the largest extent by disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, including children and the poor.
6. Most of the world’s poor depend on solid fuels for cooking and heating, increasing their risk of respiratory illnesses from indoor smoke. Similarly, poor populations are more likely to be exposed to diseases associated with unsafe water and unsanitary environments.