Inequity gaps in environment and health issues

Poor people living in a poor country suffer up to four times more than more affluent people  from a contaminated environment. While poor people tend to live in worse environments and are often more exposed, their health is also influenced by countries’ capacity and political determination to reduce environmental health risks. The knowledge and experience available on risks and solutions need to be used to ensure that everybody in the WHO European region enjoys environment and health equity.

Some European examples

  • Five out of six childhood deaths from injuries occur in poor countries, but poor children living in affluent western urban environments, suffer and die from injuries up to five times more than their wealthier peers.
  • Less affluent children tend to live in areas where traffic emissions are higher, putting them at higher risk of suffering from respiratory diseases. A recent French study shows that they can be exposed to up to 25% higher traffic-related air pollution than those from the least deprived group.
  • By 2010, one in ten children will be obese - a total of 15 million across Europe. Poor children and their families have more difficulty in affording the healthiest food choices and have fewer opportunities to be active, thus increasing their risk of becoming obese.
  • 10 000 children aged 0-4 years are estimated to die each year from the use of solid fuel at home, 90% of them are from low- and middle-income countries.
  • Environmental risks in the private home - such as damp and mould, air pollution, inadequate sanitation facilities and crowding - are more frequently found in low-income households, which tend to live in less adequate buildings due to their lack of financial resources.
  • More deprived settlements and less affluent population groups are more often exposed to the location of hazardous activities or polluted places, such as waste sites, incineration plants, polluted rivers, etc.

Some effective interventions

  • Water safety plans ensure safe drinking water from source to tap.
  • Enforcing the strictest policies to contain emissions from motorized transport and promoting public transport, cycling and walking.
  • Providing health-oriented building standards and financial incentives for cleaner alternatives for heating and cooking.
  • Ensuring proper controls and practices during food production, processing, and distribution to reduce chemical contamination