Water pollution contributes to more deaths than war, malaria combined

Posted 9 November 2017

Polluted river in India
Water pollution has contributed to an estimated nine million premature deaths in 2015, according to recent research conducted by the Lancet Global Commission on Pollution and Health, with diseases associated with pollution taking a toll on national economies. 

University of Queensland Researcher and Lancet Commissioner Professor Peter Sly said the figure represents 16% of all deaths worldwide.

“If you look at this from a public health policy perspective, that’s more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and more than 15 times more than all wars and other forms of violence,” Sly said.

“Children are at high risk and even low-dose exposure in utero and early infancy can result in disease, disability and death in childhood and across the lifespan.”

Results from the research show that taking action on pollution is more cost-effective than managing the public health consequences, Sly said.

“The key messages are that pollution has a major impact on health, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, and it actually costs more to do nothing than to implement proven solutions,” he said. 

And while pollution is not widely recognised as a public health concern in Australia, recent groundwater contamination concerns are putting water pollution health concerns on the map. 

“There are peer-reviewed studies which show that exposure to pollutants causes higher levels of respiratory illnesses and impacts foetal growth,” Sly said.  

“While we are not Beijing or Delhi, we can still measure and demonstrate health impacts of pollution on the Australian population, and water contamination from firefighting foam is just one recent example.”

Sly said reducing pollution presents an opportunity to strengthen national economies in light of public health costs associated with disease. 

“Many of the pollution control strategies have proven cost-effective in high- and middle-income countries, and are ready to be exported and adapted by cities and countries at every level of income,” Sly said.

“The report urges countries to include pollution planning into their planning processes, and asks for support from development assistance agencies to design and implement programs that reduce pollution and save lives.”

Take a look at the full report here

If you are interested in water, sanitation and hygiene, the World Toilet Summit is being held on 20-21 November in Melbourne.
Related articles:
Here’s why more toilets are crucial to achieving water and sanitation goals
UN says more focus must be paid to health and sanitation goals
WaterAid urges governments to embrace WASH in the fight against malnutrition
Water purification for remote communities within reach with new device