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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Environmental Health

Woman and children wash clothes and bathe on stairs near water. Photo courtesy of Photoshare.Woman and children fill water containers on muddy banks of body of water. Photo courtesy of Photoshare.The environment in which we live affects human health through a variety of distinct media, including air, water, and food. In addition, activities involving industrial production, transportation, and energy generation have the potential to affect health. Similarly, human transformations of the natural landscape through agriculture, construction, and infrastructure projects play an important role in shaping health outcomes.


Working with the United States' technical and development agencies, with international organizations, and bilaterally, the Department of State uses diplomacy to promote activities ranging from household point-of-use water disinfection projects to mitigating the risk of airborne pollutants in cities and acroWater jug with drawings and message in Spanish reading 'Bebamos siempre agua saludable.' Photo courtesy of international boundaries to improve global health.


The World Health Organization estimates that a significant percentage of global mortality can be prevented through improvements in Girl washes hands in wash basin. Photo courtesy of Photoshare.environmental health. For example, approximately 3.1% of all deaths-the vast majority of them occurring in children under the age of 5-are related to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene. Urban air pollution accounts for 1.4% of all deaths, and problems related to exposure to indoor smoke, including respiratory infections, chronic pulmonary disease, lung cancer and asthma, cause considerable work and absenteeism, mostly in the developing world.


Action to remedy environmental health problems could have a very beneficial effect on countries' potential for economic growth. The Commission on Macroeconomics and Health estimates that addressing water and air related diseases could bolsHazy air over a town. Photo courtesy of Photoshare.ter economic development by enhancing labor productivity, improving educational opportunities, and enabling people to enjoy a longer period of income-generating productivity or creativity.


The State Department's Office of International Health and Biodefense (IHB) addresses the relationships among human health, environmental protection, and sustainable development as they intersect with U.S. foreign policy concerns. IHB focuses on the diplomatic dimension of a broad range of environmental health and sustainable development issues such as:

  • the emergence of zoonotic diseases in an international context;
  • access to clean water and sanitation, and support for hygiene promotion;
  • the health effects from indoor air pollution due to household cooking and heating practices;
  • maternal and child environmental health.

IHB works on these issues in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders, including other Department offices, agencies across the U.S. Government, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and private sector businesses.

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