Poverty makes pollution much worse but pollution also increases poverty. It almost always hits the poor hardest both in developing and developed countries. And in causing disease and death it depresses already low incomes even further.

Pollution takes a massive death toll in the developing world. Up to 3 million people, mostly children, die each year because their drinking water is contaminated with sewage. Another 1.8 million - mainly women and children - die from breathing in a cocktail of toxic chemicals in smoke given off by wood and dung burned in open fires inside their homes: more than 3 billion people - half the world's population - rely on these fuels.

These two causes account for most of the global deaths from pollution. But in both cases poverty is the real cause of death, for the poor cannot get clean water or modern sources of energy.

In the same way, it is poor children living by developing-country roadsides whose brains are most harmed by lead from car exhausts. The damage is even greater because they have already been mentally stunted by malnutrition.

 

And it is poor farm workers, without training or protective clothing - and often unable to read even simple instructions - who suffer most from pesticide poisoning. As many as 25 million of them may be poisoned each year; hundreds of thousands die.

Even in relatively rich countries, the poor are most at risk. In the United Kingdom 662 polluting factories are sited in areas where the average household income is under $30,000 a year - but only six in those where it is over $60,000. In the United States three out of every five African Americans and Latino Americans live near abandoned toxic waste sites. In Los Angeles you are twice as likely to have to breathe seriously polluted air if you are black than if you are white.

And though global warming threatens everyone, it will start, at least, by hitting the poor hardest, flooding vast areas of low-lying countries like Bangladesh as sea levels rise, and increasing drought over much of the developing world.

 
      photo: H. Schwarzbach/UNEP/Still Pictures  
  photo: H. Johnston/UNEP/Topham   photo: Y. Feng/UNEP/Topham  
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