Another Casualty of US Withdrawal from the WHO: The Environment

Unbeknownst to many, the WHO does important work on pollution problems.

Withdrawing from international cooperation in the midst of global pandemic is an idea that’s just as bad as it sounds.  President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the WOrld Health Organization (WHO) withdrawal will also be harmful in other ways. Notably, a major component of the WHO’s work involves the health impacts of pollution and dangerous chemicals.

Air pollution is an important focus of the WHO’s work. Appallingly poor air quality in the mega-cities of the developing world poses a major threat to public health. The WHO notes that “an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally are linked to ambient air pollution, mainly from heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections in children.” According to recent studies, air pollution may also increase coronavirus fatalities.  Besides being a clearinghouse for information about the health impacts of air pollution, the WHO also works with countries to control those impacts.  The WHO website notes it uses “a number of tools in order to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of abatement efforts. Examples include cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses and health impact assessments.”

The WHO assists governments to consider a wide range of methods for controlling air pollution.  Not all of those methods would meet the approval of the Trump Administration, such as reduced use of fossil fuels and increased reliance on renewables.  Of course, even WHO’s advocacy of improved pollution control equipment for facilities burning fossil fuels might well meet with a frown from current EPA leadership.

Air pollution is by no means the only environmental issue in the WHO’s portfolio. It also provides information to countries about the health risks of toxic substances such as cadmium, benzene, dioxins, and mercury, as well as techniques to control those risks. The WHO has a special program dealing with pollution risks to children, who make up a large proportion of the population in countries with high birth rates. Safe drinking water is also a priority. The WHO’s assistance can take very concrete form. For instance, it provided a mobile lab to Mauritania to assist with testing water quality in remote areas.

Of course, much of the WHO’s work relates to diseases like COVID-19, malaria, and polio.  Withdrawing U.S. support may undermine these vital programs. Reduced support may mean higher deaths from environmental risks in many parts of the world.  It seems doubtful that any of this figured into the Trump Administration’s decision — certainly not environmental risks, which the Administration is indifferent to.


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Reader Comments

2 Replies to “Another Casualty of US Withdrawal from the WHO: The Environment”

  1. Surely, you and your LP colleagues who post great columns on the blog, must realize that simply posting on LP Blog doesn’t work at all to inform, educate and motivate We The People to fight for the environment, especially since you all act independently and refuse to even unite among yourselves.

    So, it is most tragically obvious that refusing to unite is not working because our environment is failing at a faster rate as climate changes continue to be more disastrous every year.

    You MUST FIND A BETTER WAY, because all future generations depend on you to produce and perpetuate an acceptable quality of for them.

    Tragically, the bottom line fact of life is that UC may be the greatest university system in history, but even you folks fail to heed and act upon the lessons of history as our social, political, economic and environmental systems continue to crash and burn.

    All you do is deny any responsibility while finger-pointing just like Trump does.


    I hate to give up on pleading on this most important blog after adopting Churchill’s “Never, never, never Give Up” exhortation as a motto, but I have now come to realize in no uncertain terms that far too many academics really, really “don’t want to take on the sort of complications and impurities that come with being public” (per Hofstadter) which means I have really been dealing with a culture where far too many have failed to confront social, political and economically destructive realities.

    Also, another major conclusion after two decades of continuing education since retirement, from sources like UC type blogs, and many news, book and magazine type sources that document our overwhelming social, political and economic problems, is that far too many American institutional leaders have failed to protect our Constitution, our Democracy and We The People, resulting in increasingly destructive current events that are producing far too many unacceptable consequences today.

    I’ll have to try another way, and I just found a new Berkeley Blog post most inspirational:

    “Thoughts from your Black colleague” by Marco Lindsey, Associate Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Haas School of Business, June 3, 2020

    I shall continue to hope and pray that you and your colleagues shall find ways to implement environmental solutions you have documented before time runs out because I still persist in believing that UC has the best expertise to make the right things happen.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more