While environmental risk factors account for at least 15% of mortality in the WHO European Region, inequalities in environmental exposure are making vulnerable groups more likely to be part of the 1.4 million deaths per year than others.
To document and report on the magnitude of such inequalities within countries, WHO has launched the first 7 of a series of fact sheets on environmental health inequalities in relation to housing conditions and access to drinking-water and sanitation.
The fact sheets show that, for example, single-parent households living in poverty can be 3 times more likely to face heating problems in winter, and that the least wealthy population may be at least 5 times more likely to be served by potentially unsafe drinking-water sources.
“The compiled evidence shows that in all countries across the WHO European Region, disadvantaged population subgroups can have significantly higher exposure levels to environmental risk factors than advantaged subgroups. This is a truly disturbing finding for all of us in public health,” notes Francesca Racioppi, Head of the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health.
The reduction of many environmental health risks over the last years shows that environmental interventions are effective in preventing health impacts, but often fail to protect vulnerable populations. Therefore, country-specific and local strategies that target the most exposed population subgroups are necessary to effectively mitigate these inequalities.
“The inequality data presented in the fact sheets call for a stronger consideration of the equity impacts of national regulations, and should be reconfirmed and interpreted using national data and policy frameworks,” explains Sinaia Netanyahu, Programme Manager of Environment and Health Impact Assessment at the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health.
The European Programme of Work 2020–2025 emphasizes the need to develop strategic intelligence on levels and inequalities of health and well-being. Aligned with this priority, these environmental health inequality fact sheets create opportunities for national policy dialogue on this topic, including the health and well-being of marginalized, underserved and vulnerable groups.
The fact sheet series is produced with the support of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Inequalities at the Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research of the University of Bremen, Germany. The series is a follow-up to the 2 European assessment reports on environmental health inequalities published by WHO/Europe in 2012 and 2019.
“Continuous monitoring and assessment of the extent of environmental health inequalities is an important prerequisite to developing adequate policies and interventions and reducing the widening of social gaps within our societies,” states Gabriele Bolte, Head of the WHO Collaborating Centre at the University of Bremen.
The Collaborating Centre has committed to updating a set of indicator fact sheets on an annual basis, ensuring consistent and timely monitoring of environmental health inequalities and supporting WHO European Region Member States with respective data and intelligence.