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Headed for a catastrophe?

Thirteen million deaths are caused by preventable environmental reasons each year, the WHO says on the eve of World Environment Day. And there’s more to climate change than just melting glaciers, finds out Sanchita Sharma.
Hindustan Times | By Sanchita Sharma, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 05, 2008 01:54 AM IST

Thirteen million deaths are caused by preventable environmental reasons each year, the World Health Organisation said on the eve of World Environment Day. Cutting down degradation, however, has the potential to save four million children alone each year, mostly in developing countries such as India, China and Sub-Saharan Africa.

There’s more to climate change than just melting glaciers and ices-caps. With floods inundating Mumbai streets, monsoons causing dengue in Delhi each year, and heat waves becoming a part of Chennai life, environmental changes are touching our lives in every way.

Those more dependent on natural resources for survival are the worst hit.

The rising seas are expected to displace 94 million people worldwide, up from the current 13 million, according to the Nobel-prize winning Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. Almost 60 per cent of the heightened waters will affect South Asia along the coasts of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Increased risk of natural disasters apart, climate change will increase water and food-borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea, vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria.

With the world’s population is set to touch nine billion by 2050, and every third person in the world being an Indian or Chinese, the two countries will be among the worst hit. The population at risk of dengue would increase by 50 per cent in both India and China.

“The population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns. Over the last two decades, it increased by almost 34 per cent to 6.7 billion, from 5 billion. And the land available to each person has shrunk from 19.5 acres in 1900 to 5 acres by 2005,” said Dr Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme at the launch its fourth Global Environmental Outlook earlier this year.

Natural resource crunch

Air pollution caused by mass burning of fossil fuels releases carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, CFCs, and nitrogen oxides. Causes: Cancer, respiratory disorder such as asthma and bronchitis, nervous system damage, headache, nausea, and loss of coordination.

Water pollution and scarcity caused by chemical pollutants and waste discharge leaching to groundwater. Groundwater overuse has led to the water table falling in Delhi by one foot each year. Causes: Gastroenteritis, jaundice, and cholera outbreaks.

Soil contamination through hydrocarbons, heavy metals, pesticides and chlorinated hydrocarbons poison our food. Causes: Cancer, brain, kidney and nervous system damage.

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