Sep 22 - 28, 2008

Pollution-free atmosphere not only leaves a positive impact on the life of citizens, but also helps increase the productivity of individuals apart from reducing the burden on resources spent on treatment of those affected by polluted environment.

Pakistanis are currently spending handsome amounts of their household budget to buy medicines-what to say fake and sub-standard medicines. By ensuring neat and clean environment, we can not only reduce burden of diseases but also save precious resources spent on treatment of victims of polluted environment.

The major forms of pollution are Air Pollution, Noise Pollution, Thermal Pollution, Visual Pollution, Light Pollution, and Ozone Pollution. Apart from these, Soil Contamination and Radioactive Contamination are major threats to the environment.

Health professionals told PAGE that adverse air quality could harm many lives including of humans. Ozone pollution can cause respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, throat inflammation, chest pain, and congestion.

They say water pollution causes approximately 14,000 deaths per day, mostly due to contamination of drinking water by untreated sewage in developing countries. Oil spills can cause skin irritations and rashes while noise pollution induces hearing loss, high blood pressure, stress, and sleep disturbance. Mercury has been linked to developmental deficits in children and neurological symptoms. Lead and other heavy metals have been shown to cause neurological problems. Chemical and radioactive substances can cause cancer and as well as birth defects, they added.

About soil contamination, experts say, it occurs when spill or underground leakage releases chemicals. Among the most significant soil contaminants are hydrocarbons, heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides and chlorinated hydrocarbons. Radioactive contamination, resulting from 20th century activities in atomic physics such as nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons research, manufacture and deployment, also badly affects the environment.

According to a recent assessment made by the World Bank, the cost of environmental neglect and degradation to the economy has amounted to Rs.365 billion.

Experts believe that environmental degradation in Pakistan is fundamentally linked to poverty. Approximately, less than one-fourth of the country's population is poor and directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. On the other hand, the current cost of environmental degradation in Pakistan is considerably high.

Health professionals say ''air pollution can affect our health in many ways with both short-term and long-term effects. Different groups of individuals are affected by air pollution in different ways. Some individuals are much more sensitive to pollutants than others. Young children and elderly people often suffer more from the effects of air pollution. People with health problems such as asthma, heart and lung disease may also suffer more when the air is polluted. The extent to which an individual is harmed by air pollution usually depends on the total exposure to the damaging chemicals, i.e. the duration of exposure and the concentration of the chemicals must be taken into account''.

Regarding short-term effects of air pollution, they said these include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Other symptoms can include headaches, nausea, and allergic reactions. Short-term air pollution can aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with asthma and emphysema. On the other hand, long-term health effects can include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and even brain damage, failures of nerves, liver, or kidneys. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in the elderly. It is estimated that half a million people die prematurely every year in the United States as a result of smoking cigarettes. Healthcare costs, lost productivity in the workplace, and human welfare impact billions of dollars each year, the experts said.

Moreover, World Health Organization has identified five major health consequences of climate change ranging from surge in malnutrition to outbreak of diseases, both communicable and non-communicable ailments.

WHO in its latest report stressed that climate change endangers health in fundamental ways. Rising temperatures and more frequent droughts and floods can undermine food security and surge in malnutrition is expected to be especially severe in countries where large populations depend on rain-fed subsistence farming.

"Malnutrition, much of it caused by periodic droughts, is already responsible for an estimated 3.5 million deaths each year." Secondly, more frequent extreme weather events leading to more potential deaths and injuries caused by storms and floods followed by flooding could lead to outbreaks of diseases, such as cholera, especially when water and sanitation services are damaged or destroyed. The report says that storms and floods are already among the most frequent and deadly forms of natural disasters.

Moreover, scarcities of water would increase the burden of diarrheal disease, which is spread through contaminated food and water. Diarrhoeal disease remains to be already the second leading infectious cause of childhood mortality and accounts for a total of approximately 1.8 million deaths each year. The fourth significant consequence was cited to be heat waves, especially in urban "heat islands", which could directly increase morbidity and mortality, mainly in elderly people with cardiovascular or respiratory disease. Apart from heat waves, higher temperature is warned to also increase ground-level ozone and hastens on the onset of the pollen season, contributing to asthma attacks.

Finally, changing temperatures and patterns of rainfall, the report said, are expected to alter the geographical distribution of insect vectors that spread infectious diseases. Of these diseases, malaria and dengue are of greatest public health concerns. It was stressed that climate change can affect problems that are already huge, largely concentrated in the developing world, and difficult to combat.