Pollution “Sacrifice Zones” Threaten Vulnerable CommunitiesBy Miriam Bello | Thu, 03/17/2022 - 12:51
“Sacrifice zones,” regions where pollution or low economic investment have permanently damaged the environment, are exposing local communities to precarious and toxic conditions leading to strokes, cancers, respiratory problems and heart diseases, warns the UN’s report Sacrifice Zones and Human Rights.
“Climate is one of the greatest threats to public health, affecting air and water quality and food supply through the impact of foodborne diseases, extreme weather events and wildfires, as well as diseases transmitted by mosquitoes,” said Jon Benjamin, UK Ambassador to Mexico.
While pollution does not differentiate among communities, it tends to enhance health inequalities for those at a higher disadvantage, explained Benjamin. For those already struggling to have their human rights met, environmental concerns translate into threats to their rights to life, health and a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, reads the UN report.
For example, workers in low and middle-income nations face higher health risks because of elevated exposure to pollutants in the workspace, poor working conditions, limited knowledge about chemical risks and limited access to healthcare. “Every year more than 1 billion workers are exposed to hazardous substances, including pollutants, dusts, vapors and fumes in their working environments,” reads an Impakter report.
Sacrifice zones merge both extreme environmental conditions and vulnerable groups. They are often fenceline communities where residents, usually low-income families, live in proximity to polluting industries or military bases that expose them to dangerous chemicals and other environmental threats. As the toxification of the Earth intensifies, so do sacrifice zones.
The Gulf of Mexico has been categorized as a sacrifice zone, especially the area near the mouth of the Mississippi. “This [area] is considered a dead zone because of the enormous amounts of fertilizers and other harmful chemicals that have been dumped into the Gulf from the river,” according to Environmental Humanities.
To address this problem, Benjamin calls for governments to conduct a climate change and health vulnerability assessment, develop adaptation plans and facilitate funding for climate change projects related to healthcare. “While commitments to these goals should be led by governments across the world, we can all rise to the challenge and work together to ensure change and progress,” said Benjamin.