Latest News           Services           Circuits           Contact Us           Archives           Subscribe           Search


Indoor air pollution, lack of access to water and sanitation, urban pressures: Major threats to development prospects

NEW YORK, United Nations, April 19, 2005 --/WORLD-WIRE/--
Poor countries are faced with the highest health risks caused by environmental factors such as use of biomass fuels and lack of access to clean water and sanitation, in addition to increased population pressures in urban areas, according to data from the 2005 edition of the Little Green Data Book (LGDB), launched today during the 13th Session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).

Every year, an estimated five million people in developing countries die prematurely from water-related diseases and exposure to pollution caused by stove smoke inside their homes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The LGDB sheds light on some of the issues that need to be tackled if better health outcomes are to be achieved. It presents the data in an accessible format, and provides a useful reference for country and regional level information.

Indoor air pollution threatens health in poor countries

Wood fuels are still the primary source of energy for approximately two billion people. Indoor smoke from burning solid biomass is associated with respiratory problems. Most of the victims are infants, children, and women from poor rural families. Acute respiratory infections in children and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in women are common in poor countries.

In developing countries with high mortality rates, such as Cambodia, Burundi and Mozambique, indoor air pollution is the 4th leading cause of illness and death (World Health Report: Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life, 2002, World Health Organization, Geneva). Indoor smoke accounts for 3.6 percent of the burden of disease in developing countries with high mortality, following the lack of water supply and sanitation which accounts for 5.5 percent of death and illness.

"Environmental factors are often the 'invisible killers' of the poor," said Warren Evans, Environment Director, the World Bank. "Reducing environmental risks will require new investments and significant policy and institutional reforms. Timely, accurate data are key to making decisions on environmental health."

The data shows very little progress in the past 10 years. In low- and middle-income countries, the use of solid biomass and biomass wastes as a percent of total energy use has gone from 54 percent in 1992 to 49 percent in 2002. In developing countries, most of the biomass fuel is for household use and, therefore, the percentage use is likely to be higher if one focuses only on the residential sector.

The health impact of woody biomass use can be minimized through the use of dry biomass fuels, efficient cookstoves, better kitchen practices and chimneys. Wood fuel harvesting can be made sustainable and can continue to support the livelihoods of the many rural poor engaged in its harvesting, transport and sale. Although deforestation is commonly assumed to be the result of wood fuel harvesting in most regions, the major cause is land clearing for agricultural expansion.

Sanitation- Long way to go

The LGDB 2005 reports that approximately 2.85 billion people, or 46 percent of the world's population in 2002, lacked access to basic sanitation (Source: World Health Organization). East Asia and South Asia carry the bulk with almost one billion people lacking basic sanitation in each region. Almost half a billion people lack access to basic sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the challenge is not only in providing toilets and other hardware, but also in providing hygiene promotion to change peoples' behavior. Evidence suggests that improved hand washing with soap at the right times can prevent about half of diarrhoeal infection, and significantly reduce respiratory infection.

Sanitation and hygiene matter for health because they are the first line of defense against faecal-oral diseases. Over 90 percent of the health effects are experienced by children under five. Globally the proportion of all deaths due to diarrhea among all children under ?ve years of age is 18 percent. This is equivalent to one child dying every fifteen seconds. Diarrhea accounts for about a third of total child deaths under the age of five in developing countries.

If current trends continue, the developing world is not going to be able to achieve in 2015 the United Nations target of reducing by half the number of people without access to basic sanitation.

Meeting the water supply and sanitation target will require doubling annual investment from US$15 to US$30 billion a year. Most of the increase is required for sanitation. However, increasing efficiency, quality and sustainability will require significant policy and institutional reform as well.

More than 50 countries in the developing world are off track and urgent action is needed to reverse this trend. Sub-Saharan Africa lags behind; 71 percent of countries are unlikely to reach their sanitation goals and 44 percent are unlikely to achieve their water supply goals. For example, with only 22 percent of the population with access to improved water supply and six percent with access to improved sanitation, Ethiopia faces a daunting challenge to reach the 61 percent water coverage target and the 53 percent sanitation target by 2015. This means an almost three-fold increase in water access and a nine-fold increase in sanitation access in 10 years.

According to Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Energy and Water, "Meeting the sanitation needs of the world requires a concerted and urgent effort. Households need a range of options. Even basic facilities at low cost are key for providing dignity to people, and for reducing the environmental squalor around their homes and communities. The World Bank supports countries to roll out large scale sanitation programs with the involvement of local governments, communities and the domestic private sector. These sanitation programs are complemented by hygiene behavior change campaigns. We collectively need to scale up these efforts."

The Little Green Data Book 2005 makes key development indicators widely available to a global audience.

Eric Swanson, Program Manager in the World Bank's Development Data Group, said, "The key to good decision-making is having good information. We produce the 'Little Green Data Book' because the indicators help us better understand the world we live in, the benefits we derive from its resources, and how our actions affect the world."

Other Trends…

Urban population is growing, putting pressure on infrastructure

Between 2002 and 2003, the world's urban population increased by 27 million, an amount bigger than the size of Mexico City. Urbanization is greatest in Latin America, where the urban population is 77 percent of the total. The biggest growth rate has, however, taken place in East Asia and the Pacific, with an increase of 0.89 percent, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, with an increase of 0.67 percent.

Environmental health threats are most acute in the rapidly growing high-density slums. Given the scale of the problem in urban areas, more effort should be placed on building environmental health firmly into the urban development prognosis. Progress needs to be made on at least two fronts. First, the process of restructuring informal settlements needs to be accelerated. At the same time, the informal sector should be supported to serve communities until the restructuring is well under way.

Adjusted net savings: sustainability on the balance

Building on the concept of green national accounts, adjusted net savings provide a measure of sustainability by accounting for national savings, investments in human capital, depletion of natural resources, and damage caused by pollution.

A negative savings rate implies that welfare is expected to decline in the future as a result of decisions made today. Sustainability in Sub-Saharan Africa appears very low once traditional savings measures are adjusted to take into account the loss of natural capital. In 2003, Gross National Savings were 15.9 percent of Gross National Income (GNI), while Adjusted Net Savings were barely positive, at one per cent of GNI. Adjusted net savings rates have declined in the region from 4.4 per cent in 1996 to -0.7 per cent of GNI in 2000. The indicator has shown a small recovery in recent years, reaching almost one percent in 2003.

For a copy of the publication go to:

Copyright © 2006, World-Wire. All rights reserved.
Issuers of news releases and not World-Wire are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.