Human health is directly interlinked with the health of the physical environment and biodiversity. The link is much evident in the increase in the number of illnesses because of pollution and our environmental health, public health experts said on Thursday.
World Health Day is a global health awareness day celebrated every year on April 7. The theme this year as set by the World Health Organisation is 'Our Planet, Our Health'.
In the midst of a pandemic, a polluted planet, increasing diseases like cancer, asthma, heart disease, the WHO aims to focus global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being.
"Human health is dependent on the health of our physical environment, biodiversity and sustainable use of planetary resources," Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India, told IANS.
"Breaching these will lead to extreme weather events, heat effects, spread of vector borne infectious diseases, damage to agriculture, a spate of chronic diseases and mental health disorders. We need to recognise and respect the sanctity of planetary boundaries to protect and foster human health," he added.
According to the global health agency estimates, more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are due to avoidable environmental causes. These include heart disease and stroke, accidents, respiratory illnesses, diarrhoeal diseases, and malaria among others. In addition it includes the climate crisis which is the single biggest health threat facing humanity.
"Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health - clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. They contribute to epidemics, drive heat stress, result in poorer water quality and drive food insecurity," Anjela Taneja, Inequality Campaign Lead, Oxfam India, told IANS.
"Heatwaves, storms, floods, an increase in water and airborne infections, and even mental health difficulties are all consequences of disturbed ecological balance and climate change. The latter can also have an influence on human well-being by jeopardising ecosystem services such as access to fresh water and food production," added Supriya Patil, Environmental expert at Grow-Trees.com
The WHO estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from a combination of malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
Increased hunger is also driven by the worsening climate crisis. Oxfam International calculates that 821 million people across the world face chronic food deprivation which is a return to levels from almost a decade ago.
This tests health systems to their capacity and places those who are vulnerable at particular risk. Pollution also directly contributes to poor health outcomes, Taneja said.
The experts noted that an increase seen in the number of illnesses because of pollution and our environmental health, in general, is no secret.
"The health of the ecosystem cannot be separated from the health of all humans, animals, plants, and their living environments. As such, deforestation and the loss of wildlife habitats creates the risk of exposure to new pathogens, creating diseases and triggering pandemics," she added.
"Our Earth is home to a wide range of ecosystems with which we share symbiotic relationships. To ensure life on this planet, all of these ecosystems must work together in harmony," Patil noted.
Thus, it is essential to respect planetary boundaries and address the underlying factors contributing to global warming, pollution and overall climate change.
"We must invest in initiatives to mitigate environmental dangers as well as be aware of activities that have had unimaginable consequences for environmental health. Using clean and green technology and fuels, promoting good sanitation, and improving access to clean water are just a few methods to protect the health of our world and ourselves," Patil said.