Unhealthy Environments Resulted in One Quarter of Global Deaths in 2012

Smog Cover Over Delhi, NCR
Photograph by Sanjeev Verman—Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Protecting the environment won’t just save lives down the road; a new report by the World Heath Organization shows that poor environmental factors, like air pollution, are already killing millions.

Nearly one in every four deaths around the world in 2012 was a result of unhealthy environments, according to a new WHO estimate. The report pegged the number of environmentally-related deaths that year at 12.6 million.

Since the last time WHO published a similar report a decade ago, fewer people are dying of infectious diseases like diarrhea that are caused by poor sanitation and water supplies. But the share of deaths from non-communicable diseases, like stroke and cancer, has climbed. Those diseases made up two-thirds of the deaths related to unhealthy environments in 2012, according to WHO.

Southeast Asia and the West Pacific bore the brunt of environment-related disease in 2012, largely due to air pollution. WHO estimated that 3.8 million people die annually in Southeast Asia due to environmental factors.


“A healthy environment underpins a healthy population,” Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General, said in a statement. “If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young.”

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