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Environmental Health and Geospatial Technology

by Yashwant Singh

"The greatest wealth is health" isn't it so true?

Environmental health

The science of preventing diseases, prolonging human life and promoting human health through an organized effort is called public health. Environmental health is a branch of public health. When we talk about the impact of environment on human health we are considering both natural and built environment. As per WHO "Environmental health addresses all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting human behaviour." 


 
How it is happening?

Our environment is impacting our health in various ways. As per the WHO report,13 million deaths annually are attributed to preventable environmental causes. The report also estimates that 24% of the global disease burden (healthy life years lost) and 23% of all deaths (premature mortality) are attributed to environmental factors. A simple fact is that we are playing with environment and ecosystem in the name of development and in return they are causing the worst impact on our health.

  • Huge economic development and population growth result in continuing environmental degradation.
  • Increased agriculture land, industrialization and increasing energy use are main driving forces for environmental health problems.
  • In developing countries, major health issues related to the environment are because of poverty and severe lack of public infrastructures, such as access to drinking water, sanitation, and lack of healthcare as well as emerging problems of industrial pollution.


                                      (This kind of industrialization is polluting the air essential for life)

Why it is so serious?

Every minute, five children in developing countries die from malaria or diarrhoea. Every hour, 100 children die as a result of exposure to indoor smoke from solid fuels. Every day, nearly 1,800 people in developing cities die as a result of exposure to urban air pollution. Every month, nearly 19,000 people in developing countries die from unintentional poisonings.

Source: WHO/UNEP Health and Environment Linkages Initiative Review of Initial Findings.


How helpful is Geospatial Technology?

  1. Space and location are very important for effective environmental health surveillance. GIS, remote sensing and spatial analysis method are best suited for environmental health investigations. GIS application in environmental health is a practice for decades. 
  2. In 1988 in England spatial clustering of childhood leukaemia was done on the basis of GIS analysis.
  3. Another early study includesMcMaster’s GIS assessment of community vulnerability to hazardous materials.
  4. Not only identification and analysis but GIS and spatial statistics are contributing in research and development too. Researchers are using GIS in a variety of environmental health applications, including air quality, water quality, pesticide exposures, vector control, and the built environment.
  5. GIS maps serve as a powerful communication tool in trying to reach communities at risk. For example, a number of analyses have sought to reduce the costs and improve the detection rate of blood-lead screening. These analyses have attempted to target blood-lead screening efforts by identifying the children or groups of children who are at the highest risk of lead exposure. (Map showing priority wise lead exposure risk in North Carolina)    
  6. GIS data is helpful in making and regulating the environmental policies and priorities for public health care. Such kind of application is used to identify the areas with elevated risk or hotspots.
  7. Public health organizations use GIS on a daily basis to analyze the spread of infectious and chronic diseases, promote and encourage healthy behaviour, protect the public against environmental hazards (as discussed throughout this paper), prevent injuries (e.g., analyzing traffic injuries by location), respond to disasters and assist communities in recovery (e.g., situational awareness, identifying vulnerable populations), and ensure the quality and accessibility of health services as well as many other programs and services.
  8. As per WHO GIS is highly suitable for analyzing epidemiological data, revealing trends and interrelationships that would be more difficult to discover in the tabular format.

 

Summary

Environmental health is a branch of public health. When we talk about the impact of the environment on human health we are considering both natural and environmental. Our environment is impacting our health in various ways. Huge economic development and population growth result in continuing environmental degradation. GIS and spatial analysis methods are best suited for environmental health investigations, research and development, analysis and policymaking.


SATPALDA is a privately owned company and a leading provider of satellite imagery and GeoSpatial services to the user community. Established in 2002, SATPALDA has successfully completed wide range of photogrammetric and Remote Sensing Projects.

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