Sunday, February 22, 2015

Uncertain Health in an Insecure World – 24

 “For the Want of Money, Suffer Little Children”

There is no lack of will at the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has more than the will – it has a global plan of action to reduce the >3 million annual child deaths from environmentally-related diseases.

The WHO’s breakdown of diseases killing children, largely transmitted by infectious vectors in under- and undeveloped countries, is 1 million deaths from acute respiratory illnesses, 1.3 million from diarrheal conditions related to contaminated water & poor sanitation, and 0.8 million from malaria. Right now, children in Pakistan’s drought-stricken Tharparkar district are suffering malnutrition and starvation, and dying from pneumonia and diarrhea.

Our increasingly wired world is also harming the environment, and children.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 2.5 million tons of non-compostable computer, monitor, mobile device, T.V. and peripherals waste are generated annually (~66 pounds per American). 70 million annual tons of worldwide ‘e-waste’ production contribute to kidney and neurological diseases, and cause genetic damage. Groundwater flowing through e-waste landfills (”leachate”) carries away trace elements like cadmium, lead, beryllium, PBDE’s and mercury into drinking water. 

Dismantling 1.5 million pounds of junked computers per year causes 70% of children in Guiyu township of China’s Guangdong Province to have excess lead in their blood, of which 82% have lead poisoning. Only one-quarter of U.S. e-waste is recycled. Even this e-waste is often illegally dumped in far off places like the Agbogbloshie region of Ghana in West Africa, where children scavenging gold, silver or copper for cyber-criminals are exposed to these toxins.

Low oil prices make consumer goods cheaper, and low gas prices make driving more affordable… both at the expense of children’s health.

The B.B.C. recently reported that a 10% fall in oil prices produces a 0.1% increase in Europe’s economic output. Despite the broadly based consumer bounce from >7 months of lower oil and gas prices, calls are growing to ban petroleum-based microplastics contaminating Europe’s marine ecosystems and seafood, and to eliminate noxious non re-cycleable foam containers used in American fast food take-out cartons. And notwithstanding lower gas prices, a recent King’s College London study showed that just 30 minutes of exposure to vehicle traffic pollutants among children walking to school stunts their lung growth.

Pre-natal and childhood exposure to volatile organic chemicals concerns environmental health scientists and international policy makers.

Pre-natal maternal phthalate ester exposure affects neurodevelopment and behaviors in 8-year old Taiwanese children. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), now banned flame retardants applied onto numerous products & materials, are migrating to contaminate soil, wastewater, microbiota and foodstuffs. PBDE’s have adverse effects on adult thyroid hormones and fertility, and are shown to lower the I.Q.’s of North American and European children. Studies show that preconception parental exposure to 63 known persistent organic pollutants (POPs) adversely affects the birth size of offspring.

What the world lacks is a sustainable financing plan to impact these shocking child mortality statistics. For example, the 34 countries’ adopting a 15-year malaria elimination target would require US$8.5 billion in sustained financing through 2030.

A recent WHO meeting in Geneva, co-convened by Canada and Norway, brought stakeholders in women’s and children’s health together to discuss how to ensure global accountability in the post-2015 era. Building upon prior scientific momentum and independent Expert Review Group (iERG) recommendations for accountability, a growing focus of this movement is its relationship to a global financing strategy. 

In parallel, the 3rd progress report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) described the criticality of sustainable financial systems by which global markets could more effectively price environmental resources, fostering so-called environmental social governance (ESG). In the absence of effective ESG-based financial controls or market levers, the imputed value of natural capital stocks such as clean air, productive soils and abundant potable water is now falling in 116 of 140 countries around the world.

The WHO, with a 2014-15 budget of US3.98 billion (twice that of 1998-99), cannot do it all.

Despite extensive compelling research such as that highlighted above, there is still no comprehensive public financing regime and/or private sector intervention designed to positively impact long-term global environmental health.  

Absent that, millions of children continue to die on this complex, money-driven global environmental health battlefield.

In the Square or on the front lines, we must march toward the sound of battle, with victory being sustainable ESG funding that saves innocent children’s lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment