There is a large gap between developed and developing countries in terms of the attention given to environmental concerns. As a general rule, developing nations place the environment low on their list of priorities. Managing the ecosystem takes a back seat to economic advancement and industrialization, which are seen as more pressing needs. On the other hand, developed nations generally take a more proactive role in environment management because they have the budget and the technology to do so.
They have also recognized that further economic development can no longer do without sustainable environmental practices (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2001).
Stemming from this basic difference of priorities is the great disparity between the environment’s impacts on the health of people living in the First World and those living in the Third World. However, it is simplistic to assume that the former are invariably healthier than the latter.
While it is true that developing nations use less environmentally-friendly practices, the sheer level of industrialization and commercialization in developed countries sometimes means that these countries produce far more pollution and thus create more health problems for their citizens.
A comprehensive assessment of the interaction between human health and the natural environment is not possible given the length of this paper. Nevertheless, this essay will explore some differences between First and Third World nations with regards to two selected major public health issues, namely, air pollution and water pollution.
Air Pollution Palo and Solberg (1999) have identified carbon dioxide as the most abundant greenhouse gas produced today, and they cite it as the most critical contributor to global warming, a phenomenon that poses a grave threat to human health and security. Confalioneri et al. (2007) detailed the exact nature of this threat in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report. Global warming first affects humanity by changing weather patterns.
Extreme temperature swings, irregular precipitation, rising sea levels, more powerful storms, droughts and heatwaves have all become more common as a direct result of global warming. These phenomena in turn negatively affect the quality and quantity of food, water and air available to human populations. These phenomena inflict a great amount of damage on human settlements and infrastructure as well. The worldwide spikes in malnutrition, infectious diseases, and deaths from extreme weather events are all directly proportional to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The IPCC also warned that developing societies were at the greatest risk to these environmental pressures. Among these developing nations, Douglas et al. (2001) cited coral reef atolls and reef islands as the most prone because their rates of land loss are dramatically impacted on by incremental rises in sea level. They cited the rapidly disappearing land of the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, and some low-lying Japanese islands as some of the most alarming manifestations of global warming.
They added that rise in sea levels has led not only to escalating land loss, but also to the contamination of underground water sources in nations such as Israel, Thailand and island states in the Pacific and the Caribbean. The combined loss of arable land and potable water caused by global warming does not only lead to malnutrition and disease but also to social pressures such as overcrowding in cities, which increase the strain on the human population’s health.
In addition, developing countries lack the infrastructure to protect their populations from the increasingly negative repercussions of climate change. In nations such as India, Bangladesh and Burma, relief efforts for victims of increasingly destructive storms are routinely slowed down by the insufficient facilities, resources and personnel. However, it should be noted that developed countries are not immune to these calamities. The unprecedented destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina on a major U. S.
city serves as a grim reminder of the vulnerability of First World nations to extreme weather events. Cooper and Block (2007) are only two of many Americans who have accused the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of being prepared for natural disasters “on paper,” only to be caught flat-footed when Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Cooper and Block also blame FEMA’s ineptitude for the unsanitary living conditions thousands of survivors had to endure for several weeks after the disaster.
To this day, New Orleans has not fully recovered from the hurricane. Carbon dioxide emissions are not the only major source of air pollution. Other chemicals such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) also pose significant health problems. As Tang (2004) has underlined, these primary pollutants are doubly hazardous because they can react photochemically to create secondary pollutants, and these secondary pollutants can also undergo further chemical reactions which result in even deadlier substances.
This type of air pollution is one of the most critical problems in China today, especially in the capital of Beijing. As one of the most rapidly developing countries in the world, China has seen an enormous surge in demand for fossil fuels to feed its factories and the motorized transport of its citizens. In addition, China has much lower emissions standards for its automobiles compared to other countries, leading to more pollution produced per vehicle. Tang cited Song et al.
(2003), who noted the sharp increase in respiratory diseases among Chinese living in urban areas, as well as many residents’ complaints about the chronic lack of visibility in Beijing. Once again, these health problems are not limited to developing countries. In fact, this type of air pollution is acutely felt in megacities such as Los Angeles and London, where air quality is severely compromised by the millions of automobiles and the factories located in and around the city limits.
However, developed countries are taking definite steps to decrease the pollution, with one notable exception. As Al Gore observed in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006), the United States lags far behind its European counterparts when it comes to enforcing more environmentally friendly emissions standards for its automobiles. The discrepancy has reached the point where some American vehicles can no longer be sold in European countries because they no longer meet government environment safety standards.