Environmental risks cause 12.6 million deaths annually – UN


The UN has announced that the growing threat of extreme weather, climate change and air pollution causes more than 12.6 million deaths a year.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said they were combining their expertise to counter the environmental threats.

The two UN agencies signed a legal agreement, which committed them to protect communities using “relevant and authoritative” data on the weather, climate and atmosphere.

WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis said that there was a “lot of political will” between the heads of the two organisations, after “decades of collaboration” between the agencies.

The agreement signed by WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, and WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, in practical terms, would ensure a better flow of information between the agencies.

“It would also ensure air pollution and UV forecasts from national weather centres, reach the health professionals on the ground “who are dealing on a daily basis, with the impact of environmental risks to health”.

WMO said that the deal’s “overarching aim” was to promote policies and practices which are beneficial “both to public health and which cut greenhouse gases”.

One of the initiative’s main targets is to prevent people dying prematurely from illnesses related to air pollution including strokes, heart disease respiratory conditions and cancer.

Annually, an estimated seven million people die from air-pollution related diseases, WMO noted.

The agency also highlighted the threat from climate change, noting that Hurricane Maria claimed 64 lives in Puerto Rico in September 2017, only for new research to reveal that it actually led to more than 4,600 deaths, “because of a breakdown in healthcare, electricity and infrastructure”.

WMO’s role in coordinating Member States’ seasonal rainfall and temperature forecasts would also help in the fight against many diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, which depend on these variables.

Similarly, scientific drought predictions could help protect farming communities during the dry season, while extreme heat warnings are increasingly used to reduce the health impact of heatwaves.

The plan also involved placing “special emphasis” on reaching the most vulnerable populations in developing countries, Small Island Developing States and urban areas.