United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global  Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 4: Looking to the Future

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Human Health

Slow Progress Towards Health for All

Despite this optimistic projection, increasing pollution, urbanization, population growth, poverty, and lack of education will continue to hamper progress towards achieving the United Nations goal of "health for all."

Indeed, the results are conditional in that the assumed economic growth will have to be achieved and accompanied by investments in social and environmental development similar to those that have taken place in industrial countries. Without such investments, a move towards a more equitable, healthy, and sustainable future for all sectors of society will be difficult to realize. If the projected growth in population and income is not matched by investments in social development and environmental protection, environmental degradation may pose a serious threat to human health either directly (through floods, for example) or indirectly by reducing the availability of enough healthy food and clean water.

The projected global increase in life expectancy will contribute to a shift towards a population structure with a higher proportion of adults and older people. This raises a new issue. Larger, healthier, and thus, on average, older populations will place additional demands on economies. Hence it is worth considering, especially over the long term, the possible influence of human health on the environment the reverse of the concern in many developing countries today.

The impact of a number of environmental changes on health were not (and could not be) taken into account at this stage. These include land degradation, the destruction of the centres of origin of the world's staple foods, climate change (which might, for instance, enlarge the areas where vectors of diseases such as malaria and dengue can thrive), acidification, and the hazards of persistent organic pollutants.

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