From: Veronika Oleksyn, Associated Press
Published June 14, 2007 12:00 AM

Reducing Environmental Risks Could Save Millions of Lives Annually

VIENNA, Austria -- Tackling air pollution, contaminated drinking water and other environmental problems could save millions of lives annually around the world, the World Health Organization said in a report Wednesday.


The study said that Afghanistan and the African nations of Angola, Burkina Faso and Mali are among the countries most affected by environmental troubles.


In 23 countries, more than 10 percent of deaths can be traced to two risk factors: unsafe drinking water and indoor air pollution caused by the burning of so-called solid fuels -- wood, cow dung or coal for cooking, the WHO said.


The report also highlights that more developed countries are not immune to environmental health risks.


In 53 countries in Europe, for example, an estimated 1.8 million deaths could be prevented each year if more efforts were made to create a healthier environment.


WHO said its results were based on 2002 data from national health authorities, reviews of scientific literature and expert surveys. It also encompasses data collected by the WHO.


The report said as many as 13 million deaths could be prevented yearly by reducing the environmental risks. But WHO officials stressed the report was a preliminary estimate of how environmental factors affect health.


"We would be very glad if these country-by-country figures are used as the basis for a discussion on effective countermeasures," said Susanne Weber-Mosdorf, the WHO's assistant director-general for sustainable development and healthy environments.


Simple water purification methods could decrease the rate of diseases such as diarrhea that affect many children, Weber-Mosdorf told a news conference in Vienna.


Around the world, children under five years old make up 74 percent of deaths from diarrhea and respiratory infections, the WHO said.


Thirty-seven children die each day of water-related diarrhea in Europe, mostly in eastern and central parts of the region, according to WHO.


The WHO suggested that using gas or electricity for cooking, improving ventilation or keeping children away from smoke could reduce the number of deaths.


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