A quarter of global deaths are caused by an unhealthy environment

unhealthy environment air pollution

An estimated 12.6 million people died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in 2012 – nearly 1 in 4 of total global deaths, according to new estimates from WHO.

The findings are published in the second edition of the report, “Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks”. Environmental risk factors mentioned in the report include such things as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation.

Regionally, the report finds, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest environment-related disease burden in 2012, with a total of 7.3 million deaths, most attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution. Further regional statistics listed in the report include:

  • 2.2 million deaths annually in African Region
  • 847 000 deaths annually in Region of the Americas
  • 854 000 deaths annually in Eastern Mediterranean Region
  • 1.4 million deaths annually in European Region
  • 3.8 million deaths annually in South-East Asia Region
  • 3.5 million deaths annually in Western Pacific Region

The report also finds that the vast majority of environment-related deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and ischaemic heart disease. The most commonly occurring environment-related deaths are:

  • Stroke – 2.5 million deaths annually
  • Ischaemic heart disease – 2.3 million deaths annually
  • Unintentional injuries (such as road traffic deaths) – 1.7 million deaths annually
  • Cancers – 1.7 million deaths annually
  • Chronic respiratory diseases – 1.4 million deaths annually
  • Diarrhoeal diseases – 846 000 deaths annually
  • Respiratory infections – 567 000 deaths annually
  • Neonatal conditions – 270 000 deaths annually
  • Malaria – 259 000 deaths annually
  • Intentional injuries (such as suicides) – 246 000 deaths annually


Read the press release from WHO here