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U.N. report estimates pesticides kill 200,000 people per year

Overwhelming majority of those killed are farmers in the developing world

By Eric DuVall
U.N. report estimates pesticides kill 200,000 people per year
Tropical smallholder farmers do not always use protective gear while handling pesticides, as this undated photo shows. A new report presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council said 200,000 people per year, mostly in developing countries, die as a result of exposure to toxic pesticides. Photo by Harry vanderWulp/United Nations

March 9 (UPI) -- Seeking to draft a global treaty banning the use of dangerous pesticides, a United Nations report presented Wednesday estimated 200,000 people globally die each year as a result of chronic exposure to agricultural chemicals.

The report's authors, Hilal Elver and Baskut Tuncak, both special rapporteurs to the U.N. on food and toxins respectively, said those affected are almost all farmers in the developing world. They condemned the widespread use of dangerous pesticides in a presentation to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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"Excessive use of pesticides are very dangerous to human health, to the environment and it is misleading to claim they are vital to ensuring food security," they said.

Excessive long-term exposure to the chemicals has been linked to a long list of potentially fatal illnesses, from cancer to Alzheimer's disease. Their report stated 99 percent of deaths associated with pesticides happen in third-world countries where regulations governing their use are extremely lax or nonexistent.

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Particularly at risk are children who are forced into labor at an early age and are more susceptible to medical problems as a result of chronic pesticide exposure.

There are currently international provisions protecting the use of some pesticides as part of existing law governing the international use of chemicals, but there is no such treaty to govern which chemicals should not be used in the agricultural process, the researchers said.

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"Without harmonized, stringent regulations on the production, sale and acceptable levels of pesticide use, the burden of the negative effects of pesticides is felt by poor and vulnerable communities in countries that have less stringent enforcement mechanisms," they said.

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