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Youthink! Issues - Environment

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Your surroundings, and how they influence your development
© The World Bank

What is it?

The environment is the complex set of physical, geographic, biological, social, cultural and political conditions that surround an individual or organism and that ultimately determine its form and the nature of its survival.

The environment influences how people live and how societies develop. For that reason, people, progress, economic development and the environment are closely linked.

The environment can also pose risks. Air pollution, waterborne diseases, toxic chemicals, and natural disasters are some of the challenges the environment presents for mankind.

Natural resources, land, water, and forests are being degraded at an alarming rate in many countries -- and once they are gone, they are irreplaceable.

For development to be sustainable -- meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs -- countries must take into account environmental concerns in addition to economic progress.

Concern for a sound global environment is essential to fighting poverty, as the poorest people tend to live in the most vulnerable places.

Why should I care?

Each year around the world:

  • 3 million people die prematurely from waterborne diseases
  • About 400,000 children under 5 die from diarrhea in India alone
  • Around 1.6 million people die from exposure to cooking stove smoke inside their homes. About half of these deaths occur in India and China. Most victims are children and women from poor rural families who lack access to safe water, sanitation and modern household fuels
  • A million people die from malaria, mostly in Sub-Saharan African countries
  • A million people die from urban air pollution
  • Respiratory infections, diarrhea and malaria account for more than 20% of deaths in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization's Burden of Disease report.

Pollution has greater consequences:

  • Fisheries are destroyed
  • Crops are damaged
  • Production costs rise for industries that must filter dirty air or water to maintain product quality

Extreme weather events (tornados, floods, hurricanes) are occurring more frequently and affecting more people than ever before. Poor people are the most vulnerable to environmental hazards.

As people move to cities from rural areas, environmental problems will increase. Rapid urbanization -- cities growing as people move from the countryside in search of better jobs and living conditions -- often increases the burden for poor people living in slums.

What is the international community doing?

Environmental sustainability is a major global concern and is one of the Millennium Development Goals.

Many organizations are searching for ways to use natural resources so that they last throughout our lifetimes and remain available for generations to come.

International organizations like the World Bank work with developing countries to understand and address environmental challenges.

Countries and societies will make different choices about environmental priorities, but these choices need to be based on good analysis and the participation of all groups that will be affected by them.

Balancing and simultaneously achieving economic, social and environmental progress is difficult and often means difficult choices. Trade-offs among generations, social groups, and countries influence what people see as sustainable development.

Concern for a sound global environment is an essential part of the World Bank's work to fight poverty. Environmental health -- cleaning up the environment so that millions of people can live healthier lives -- is especially important in this work.

The World Bank lends money to countries for environmental projects. It also requires environmental safeguards when lending money for development projects.

Some international initiatives concerned with the environment include:

What can I do?

Check these ideas from the World Wildlife Fund to learn more about how you can help.

For more information: Environment

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