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Our health is directly related to the health of the environment we live in
by United Nations News, agencies
Jan. 2018
Taking on environmental health risks, UN agencies aim to protect ''foundations for life'' on Earth.
Two United Nations agencies are teaming up in a major new initiative taking on the herculean task of combatting environmental health risks, which claim an estimated 12.6 million lives a year.
The partnership, between the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), includes specific action to address air pollution, climate change and antimicrobial resistance as well as improve coordination on waste and chemicals management, water quality, and food and nutrition issues.
“Our health is directly related to the health of the environment we live in. Together, air, water and chemical hazards kill some 12.6 million people a year. This cannot and must not continue,” said Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, in a news release announcing the undertaking.
“There is an urgent need for us to work more closely together to address the critical threats to environmental sustainability and climate – which are the foundations for life on this planet. This new agreement recognizes that sober reality,” added Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of UNEP.
The new collaboration has a particular focus on the developing world as the worst impacts of environmental pollution and the related deaths occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The initiative also includes joint management of the BreatheLife advocacy campaign to reduce air pollution for multiple climate, environment and health benefits.
The two UN agencies have been cooperating in a range of health and environment areas. The latest partnership is the most significant formal agreement on joint action across the breadth of environment and health issues in over 15 years, the agencies added.
* UNEP: Towards a Pollution Free Planet:
Dec. 2017
Millions of babies risk brain damage from breathing toxic air, UNICEF warns.
Almost 17 million babies live in areas where air pollution is at least six times higher than international limits, causing them to breathe toxic air and potentially risking their brain development, according to a new paper released on Tuesday by the United Nations Children''s Fund (UNICEF).
Danger in the Air, notes that breathing in particulate air pollution can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development – with lifelong implications and setbacks.
“Not only do pollutants harm babies'' developing lungs – they can permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
Satellite imagery reveals that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies under the age of one living in the worst-affected areas, with 12.2 million babies residing where outdoor air pollution exceeds six times international limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO). The East Asia and Pacific region is home to some 4.3 million babies living in areas that exceed six times the limit.
“Protecting children from air pollution not only benefits children. It also benefits their societies – realized in reduced health care costs, increased productivity and a safer, cleaner environment for everyone,” he stressed.
The paper shows that air pollution, like inadequate nutrition and stimulation, and exposure to violence during the critical first 1,000 days of life, can affect the development of their growing brains.
It explains that ultrafine pollution particles are so small that they can enter the blood stream, travel to the brain, and damage the blood-brain barrier, which can cause neuro-inflammation.
Some pollution particles can cause neurodegenerative diseases while others can damage brain areas for learning and development.
A young child''s brain is vulnerable: by a smaller dosage of toxic chemicals, as compared to an adult''s; as they breathe more rapidly; and because their physical defences and immunities are not fully developed.
The paper outlines urgent steps to reduce the impact of air pollution on babies growing brains, including immediate actions for parents to decrease children''s exposure at home to harmful fumes produced by tobacco products, cook stoves and heating fires.
It also suggests investing in cleaner, renewable sources of energy to replace fossil fuel combustion; provide affordable access to public transport; increase green spaces in urban areas; and provide better waste management options to prevent open burning of harmful chemicals.
Danger in the Air advises reducing children''s exposure to pollutants by traveling during lower air pollution times of the day; providing appropriately fitting air filtration masks, in extreme cases; and creating smart urban planning so that major sources of pollution are not located near schools, clinics or hospitals.
It further recommends improving children''s overall health to bolster their resilience, and promotes exclusive breastfeeding and good nutrition.
Finally, as reducing children''s exposure begins with understanding the quality of air they are breathing, the report endorses improved knowledge and monitoring of air pollution.
“No child should have to breathe dangerously polluted air – and no society can afford to ignore air pollution,” Mr. Lake concluded.


Parts of the Earth to become uninhabitable within 50 years
by Earth Institute at Columbia University, agencies
Jan. 2018
Hotter summer highs means cities face increasingly deadly risks. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)
Scorching summer days are growing hotter in the world''s big cities at a significantly faster pace than the average rise in world temperatures - a trend that could mean more deadly urban heatwaves in years ahead, scientists said.
In cities such as Paris, Houston, Moscow and Beijing, the level of heat on the hottest summer days is growing two or three times as quickly as general temperature rises linked to climate change over the last 50 years, said researchers at the University of California-Irvine.
The trend is particularly pronounced in Europe, East Asia and parts of Australia, they said in a report released this week in the journal Earth''s Future.
Worsening heat extremes are already one of the world''s biggest health threats, health officials say.
With more than half of the world''s population now living in cities - and more than 65 percent of people expected to live there by 2050 - rising city heat extremes could put billions at risk, particularly the poor, the researchers said.
"There are more than a billion people living in extreme poverty, with many of them living in megacities and large urban centres. These are people struggling to survive," said Simon Michael Papalexiou, an environmental engineer and the lead author of the study.
Most such people have no access to air conditioning or other alternatives to protect themselves, he said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
With global income inequality on the rise, that suggests the number of urban poor without the resources to cope with extreme heat will continue to grow, Papalexiou said.
The study, which looked at data from 9,000 weather stations around the globe, found that average global temperatures have risen an average of 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade over the last 50 years.
But in Paris, the increase per decade of the hottest temperatures recorded was nearly 1 degree Celsius, researchers found, with cities such as Barcelona, Houston, Moscow and Beijing also seeing big hikes.
Such increases have contributed to heatwave disasters, including almost 70,000 deaths in Europe in 2003, and about 55,000 deaths in Russia in 2010, the report said.
But the bigger worry is what will happen in decades to come as more people crowd into big cities, the authors said. In the last two decades, the number of cities with at least 5 million people doubled, they said.
"This dramatic urbanisation, which has occurred more rapidly in the least-developed parts of the world, will aggravate the impacts of extreme weather events and increase the risk of heat-related fatalities in the future," the report noted.
Amir AghaKouchak, a civil engineer and co-author of the study, said growing urban heat risk will require city authorities to think about new measures to save lives - something some are already putting in place.
"In France after that massive heatwave (in 2003), now all nursing homes or places where there are a lot of vulnerable people have to have at least a common room with air conditioning," he said. "That can be done and it''s already happening in some places."
"But some countries don''t have the resources to do that," he noted in an interview.
Papalexiou said that making cities greener and "smarter" - such as changing architectural styles and providing more green areas with trees and plants that can lower temperatures - also will be crucial to reducing the threat.
"It''s the social, economic and political factors" that will largely determine how resilient cities of the future are to the growing heat risk, he said.
Ultimately, however, to control the risks, "you need to look at the big picture and more sustainable solutions, and that means reducing our climate changing emissions", AghaKouchak said.
Dec. 2017 (Earth Institute - Columbia University
High humidity will magnify the effects of rising heat from South America to India, affecting people''s ability to work and even survive, unless greenhouse gas emissions are substantially cut in coming decades, according to U.S. researchers.
Heat remains underestimated as a threat by governments, aid agencies and individuals, and muggy heat is even more oppressive than the "dry" kind, because it stops people from sweating which takes away excess heat.
A new study from the Earth Institute at Columbia University found areas along the coast and others that experience humid-weather patterns will be most affected by higher temperatures unless governments curb greenhouse gas emissions that can raise temperatures and put in place measures to tackle the heat.
The areas likely to be affected include the Amazon, southeastern United States, western and central Africa, parts of the Middle East, northern India and eastern China.
Current and projected "wet bulb" temperatures - which reflect the combined effects of heat and humidity - found that by the 2070s, high wet-bulb readings that now occur maybe once a year could prevail 100-250 days of the year in some parts.
"The conditions we''re talking about basically never occur now - people in most places have never experienced them," said lead author Ethan Coffel at Columbia''s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
"Failure to adopt both mitigation and adaptation measures is likely to result in suffering, economic damage, and increased heat-related mortality."
Rising temperatures may make low-latitude developing nations in the Asian subcontinent, the Middle East, Africa and South America practically uninhabitable during the summer months, another report earlier this year noted.
With muggy heat, the air is already heavy with moisture, so sweat stops evaporating, halting a process to cool the body. If there is no air conditioning, organs strain and can start to fail.
This can lead to lethargy, sickness and, in the worst conditions, death, according to the new study.
The study projects parts of the Middle East and northern India may hit 35 wet-bulb degrees Celsius by late century - equal to the skin''s temperature, and the theoretical limit at which people will die within hours without artificial cooling.
"It''s not just about the heat.. it''s about how many people are poor, how many are old, who has to go outside to work, who has air conditioning," said Alex de Sherbinin at Columbia''s Center for International Earth Science Information Network.
* Access the report via the link below:

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