The prevailing linear economic model, of "take-make-discard" which consists of the voracious depletion of natural resources both in production and consumption, turned out to be one of the biggest killers as it generates enormous pollution of the air, the soil And the water.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost a quarter of the people who die, some 12.6 million in 2012, are due to pollution and, at least 8.2 million, can be attributed to non-environmental causes. transmissible; In addition, more than three-quarters occur only in three regions.
As in most cases of pollution, low- and middle-income countries, which are among the least industrialized on earth, suffer from pollution-related diseases, the consequences of which disproportionately affect girls and boys.
The latest regional and global environmental assessments give indications of the magnitude of this current threat: pollution of air, land and soil, fresh water, the coast and the sea, in addition to cross-cutting causes such as chemicals and waste, he notes. the UN Environment.
As if that were not enough, the death of millions of human beings every year due to man-made pollution also has an impact on the world economy. The UN (United Nations Organization) estimates that air pollution has a cost of about three trillion (million million) dollars, while indoor pollution amounts to two trillion dollars a year.
Climate change also modifies weather patterns and affects the degree and appearance of atmospheric pollutants and allergens, such as ozone and pollen, and in some cases exposing people to high concentrations for longer periods than in previous decades, according to a report from UN Environment.
The document “Towards a pollution-free planet” presents some examples: poor air quality is a problem in almost all regions, water pollution is one of the main causes of infant mortality; the over-enrichment of soil and water with nutrients causes changes in the ecosystem and the loss of biodiversity.
In addition, plastics are increasing in the oceans and there is still no acceptable "storage or disposal option" for processing older generation nuclear fuels.
Air pollution is the great environmental risk to health in the world.
Some 6.5 million people die prematurely each year from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and nine out of 10 people breathe open air that is more than acceptable, according to WHO guidelines.
The agency also notes that air pollution disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people, including those with psychological disabilities and young children.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that approximately 2 billion people are in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds acceptable levels, and 300 million in areas where it is at least six times higher.
The main sources of air pollution are fossil fuel emissions released after the burning of coal, used for heating, transportation, industrial furnaces, brick making, agriculture, and the unregulated burning of waste, such as plastics and batteries. , in incinerators and open pits, according to the UN Environment report.
Other sources are the burning of peat, which generates smoke, sand and sandstorms, as well as desertification, which often leads to soil degradation, deforestation and the drying out of wetlands.
The document also indicates that air pollution is responsible for the death of 4.3 million people, 18 percent of cardiovascular accidents and 33 percent of lower respiratory infections.
In particular, it affects women, children, the sick and elderly, and those from low-income sectors, because they are often exposed to a high concentration of pollutants from cooking and heating.
Land and soil
The document also notes that land and soil contamination are largely due to poor agricultural practices, inefficient irrigation, and inadequate solid waste management, such as unsafe storage of nuclear and chemical waste, and a variety of industrial, military and natural resource extraction activities.
UN Environment explains that pollutants easily degrade land and aquifers and are difficult to remove, putting people and animals living near industrial zones and some reclaimed land at risk of further exposure to contamination if the sites they are not cleaned properly.
The main soil pollutants are heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and chromium, organic pollutants and other pesticides, as well as pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics used in animal husbandry, the report details.
It is estimated that at least one million people are poisoned each year by excessive exposure and inappropriate use of pesticides, with effects on everyone's health, according to UN Environment.
The main cause of the use of synthetic pesticides is to reduce the negative consequences of pests, such as insects, diseases and weeds, on crops, which in the 1990s were responsible for 40 percent of the loss of crops in the world .
The number of women who apply pesticides varies, but in some countries it reaches 85 percent or more of the total number of workers engaged in the activity, and they often continue to work pregnant or breastfeeding.
Women are also exposed to pesticides, even when they do not apply them directly, because they are often the gatherers, an activity that leaves them vulnerable.
In addition, exposure to pesticides can cause lifelong damage and increases the risk of premature birth, birth defects, death, reduced sperm function and many other diseases, the report warns.
Abuse of antibiotics can cause rapid changes in the microbial composition of soil, fresh water and biota, and is responsible for antimicrobial resistance, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The report "Towards a Pollution-Free Planet" notes that water bodies are heavily polluted, in particular by a variety of nutrients, agrochemicals and pathogens from untreated wastewater, and heavy metals from mining and industrial effluents.
In addition, contaminated water is more likely to harbor disease vectors, such as vibrio, which causes cholera, and schitosomasis, transmitted by a worm.
Another worrying issue mentioned in the report is that more than 80 percent of wastewater is released into the environment without any treatment. In the world, 58 percent of the cases of people with diarrhea, a major responsible for infant mortality, arise from lack of access to clean water and sanitation.
Those are some of the great consequences of the so-called linear economic model, which perhaps should be known as the relentless destruction of nature and human beings.
Translated by Verónica Firme
By Baher Kamal