This is the GAHP’s position statement on the need to spotlight pollution in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Agbogbloshie_Ghana_girls in wheelbarrowPOLLUTION: The Largest Cause of Death in the Developing World

(download pdf here)

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO) data show that pollution is the largest cause of death in the developing world. Exposures to polluted soil, water and air (both indoor and outdoor) resulted in 8.4 million deaths in 2012. Deaths from HIV amounted to 1.5 million, and malaria and TB each less than 1 million.

In other words, pollution kills three times more people than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined. It causes more death than does cancer, globally.

  • Particulates from power plants, cars and trucks pollute outdoor air.
  • Cook stoves poison indoor air.
  • Mercury and other heavy metals from industry and mining contaminate soil and water.
  • Sewage pollutes local river systems.

Pollution is a risk factor that causes heart disease, stroke, cancers, infections, and developmental and neurological disabilities, among other diseases. It also has severe implications for economic growth.

The overwhelming majority—94 percent—of the burden of disease from pollution falls on low- and middle-income countries, the countries least equipped to deal with the problem.

Pollution has for the most part been controlled in wealthy countries, but poor people in developing countries, especially women and children, continue to be poisoned, suffer lifelong disabilities, and die prematurely from pollution (read one of their stories.)

SDG graph updated

Addressing Pollution is Key to Sustainable Development

Dozens of developing countries are actively requesting international support to help solve their pollution problems.

The impact of pollution in low and middle-income countries is enormous.

Solutions exist and have proven to be manageable, cost- effective and replicable, and have produced tangible results for human health.

It is a problem both solvable and worth solving.

High-income countries have built significant technical expertise to fix their environmental health problems. This expertise needs to be transferred to low- and middle-income countries. Philippines kids Official development assistance (ODA) provides a strong mechanism to solve this problem. Environmental health solutions developed in the wealthy countries need to be extended to poorer countries with training and assistance. The current international response is focused on narrow multilateral agreements related to specific issues—mercury, pesticides, transboundary movement of waste, and the ozone layer. These agreements serve a valuable role, but do not cover the broad spectrum of pollution problems. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should include reductions in all types of pollution in air, water, soil, food and household products. The Health SDG should have a sub-goal to address pollution and other environment determinants of health. Targets would be established to reduce exposures by 50 percent or more for all types of pollution. Other SDGs should also reference pollution, as it affects many aspects of sustainable development.

Focus from the international community can save the lives of millions, cost effectively, and measurably.

About GAHP

The Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) is a collaborative body of bilateral, multilateral, and international agencies, country governments, academia and civil society that assists low-and middle-income countries to reduce the human health impacts of chemicals, waste and toxic pollution. GAHP’s members include the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Commission, GIZ, the Ministries of Environment of Mexico, Ghana, Indonesia, Madagascar, Peru, Philippines, Senegal and Uruguay, UNIDO, UNEP and UNDP, among others. For more information visit, or email

Learn More: senegal seynabou