Module 1: Introduction

People have long depended on the environment for their livelihood. While many developed countries have moved away from this more traditional lifestyle that relies on the land, those in developing countries frequently continue to depend on the environment. However, 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 on the planet. Thirteen million deaths annually are due to preventable environmental causes. Preventing environmental risk could save as many as four million lives a year, in children alone, mostly in developing countries.(1)

Stronger action needs to be taken to promote long-term environmental sustainability to reduce pollution and degradation, and to safeguard the health and well being of humans, wildlife and 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 associated with a lack of access to safe drinking water, as well as 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 pressures on ecosystems from water and air-borne contamination, and this can also improve health. People in fast-growing cities of 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 is 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 livelihood of people in developing and developed nations. The course discusses the realities and challenges we face in each of these areas, as well as innovations for sustainability in each of the environmental sectors.

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(1) WHO: Public Health and Environment. (2010). Retrieved 9 July 2010.

(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.