Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Stress in the Modern World

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Stress in the Modern World

Article excerpt

Stress in the modern world

ACCORDING to United Nationsstatistics, the world's urban population has doubled since 1950 and may double again by the end of this century, by which time three-quarters of the population of developed countries and one-third to one half of the population in developing countries will be living in cities. Current estimates suggest that as a result of both population growth and migration, the number of poor people clustered in slums and shanty-towns is increasing annually by 10 to 15 per cent. Conditions in these places are appalling. The result is tension, depression and violence superimposed on physical hardship and a constant threat of disease.

According to the Athenian statesmanPericles (495-429 BC), "health is that state of moral, mental and physical well-being which enables man to face any crisis in life with the utmost facility and grace'. This ancient, definition highlights two critically important points: firstly that health concerns man's interaction with his living conditions, and secondly that he may lose his capacity to adapt if the life crisis is severe enough.

Much more recently, this insight hasbeen echoed in the terms of a Swedish measure, the Public Health Service Bill (1984-1985), which declares that "Our health is determined in large measure by our living conditions and lifestyle. . . .' The Bill goes on to state that "The health risks in contemporary society take the form of, for instance, work, traffic and living environments that are physically and socially deficient, unemployment and the threat of unemployment, abuse of alcohol and narcotics, consumption of tobacco and unsuitable dietary habits, as well as psychological and social strains associated with our relationships--and lack of relationships--with our fellow beings.'

The Bill strongly advocates what iscalled a "holistic approach' to such problems and attempts to solve them, meaning that "people's symptoms and illnesses, their causes and consequences, are appraised in both a medical and a psychological and social perspective'. Bearing this in mind, let us look at some of these possible "causes' in the human environment, including some of those in the world's major cities in developing and developed countries.

According to recent United Nationsand World Bank statistics, half of the countries of Africa and southeast Asia, including four of the five largest, with a combined population of almost 2,000 million, have an annual median per capita income of less than $300. This mass poverty leads to hunger, undernourishment and malnutrition for vast legions of children in the developing world.

In the worst of cases, children die. Inthe "best' of cases, they grow up with physical and mental disabilities. When they reach sexual maturity, therefore, it is even more difficult for them to plan their families and care for their children, who then become even more malnourished, even more disabled, and even less competent to care for the following generation of children. Thus a descending spiral is created causing morbidity, death and suffering for hundreds of millions more in the poor countries of the world.

According to recent UNICEF reports,in the developing countries 15 million children die annually before the age of five, most of them because of lack of potable water, adequate nutrition and basic hygiene. In many African and some Latin American countries, plagued by hunger and shortage of water, this means almost every other child.

The Food and Agriculture Organizationof the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank report that at least 430 million human beings are malnourished or undernourished. In the developing countries about 60 per cent of the population has no access to safe potable water; 75 per cent has no access to basis hygiene-- simple latrines, ways to dispose of household rubbish, and personal and food hygiene.

Only 19 per cent of the population ofthese countries has access to housing of acceptable quality. …

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