Module 1: Introduction

People have long depended on the environment for their livelihood. Our world has seen an unprecedented growth in technological advancement, urbanization, population size, and use of natural resources, which has changed the way people interact with the land. Although the quality of life has significantly improved for many people in the developed world, this growth has resulted in the depletion of many of our natural resources, coupled with the production of vast amounts of pollution. Pollution has significantly altered our environments and impacts the health of all living things. Nearly thirteen million people die each year from exposure to unhealthy living or working environments. In fact, environmental risk factors including air, water, and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation are believed to contribute to more than 100 different diseases and injuries.(1)

Stronger action needs to be taken to promote long-term environmental sustainability, to reduce pollution and degradation, to safeguard the health and well being of humans and wildlife, and to conserve natural resources. Developing countries face a difficult challenge: lifting millions of people out of poverty while protecting some of the world’s most important ecosystems.(2) It is imperative that we strengthen the capacity of the poor to equitably access environmental services, reduce environmental degradation and vulnerability to natural disasters, and enhance the use of natural resources for food, water, and income security.(3) Diarrheal diseases, which are associated with a lack of access to safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation, result in nearly 1.7 million deaths annually. Household use of biomass fuels and coal by over one-half of the world's population results in 1.6 million deaths a year from pollution-related respiratory diseases. Enhancing access to improved sources of drinking water, sanitation, and clean energy are therefore key environmental interventions that can reduce pressure on ecosystems from water and air-borne contamination, and this can also improve health. People in fast-growing cities in the developing world may be exposed to the health hazards of unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and indoor and outdoor air pollution. Reducing environmental exposures will also improve the health and the lives of urban slum dwellers, which was one of the key targets of Millennium Development Goal-7.(4)

This course focuses on several key environmental issues that have a direct impact on the health and livelihoods of people around the world. The course discusses the realities and challenges we face in each of these areas, as well as innovations designed for sustainability in each of the environmental sectors.

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(1) WHO, "An Estimated 12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to unhealthy environments." Accessed on 30 July 2018.

(2) Glover, D. (2010). Valuing the Environment: Economics for a Sustainable Future. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre. Retrieved 12 July 2010.

(3) About UPE: International Development Research Center (2009, February 12). Retrieved 12 July 2010.

(4) Prüss-Üstün, A., & Corvalán, C. (2006). WHO: Preventing disease through healthy environments: Towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease. Retrieved 12 July 2010.