A public health crisis that must be addressed: About 385 million cases of pesticide poisonings each year.
Photo: ©RAPAL/Fernando Ramírez

Dramatic rise in global pesticide poisonings

It is urgently necessary to eliminate the use of highly hazardous pesticides, as demonstrated by the rise of global pesticide poisonings up from 25 million in 1990 to 385 million today.

Pesticide poisonings on farms around the world have risen dramatically since the last global assessment 30 years ago, according to a study published in the journal BMC Public Health in December 2020. 

Hence, there are about 385 million cases of acute poisonings each year, up from an estimated 25 million cases in 1990. This means that about 44 per cent of the global population working on farms – 860 million farmers and agricultural workers – are poisoned every year.

India faces serious problems with pesticide use 

The study found that the greatest number of non-fatal poisoning cases was in southern Asia, followed by Southeast Asia and East Africa. The highest single national incidence was in Burkina Faso, where nearly 84 per cent of farmers and farm workers experience unintentional acute pesticide poisonings annually.

Total fatalities around the world from unintended pesticide poisonings are estimated at some 11,000 deaths per year. Nearly 60 per cent of these occur in just one country, India, indicating serious problems with pesticide use, according to the researchers.

“Pesticide poisonings are a public health crisis that must be addressed,” said Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia Pacific. “Beyond the immediate suffering, poisonings can also reflect exposure that cause long term, chronic health effects. It’s shocking and shameful that this problem has gotten worse rather than better over the past 30 years.”

Pesticide poisonings significantly greater than previous estimates

The estimated number of global, non-fatal, unintended pesticide poisonings in the current study is significantly greater than previous estimates. This is in part because the current study covers a greater number of countries, and also because there has been an 81 per cent increase in pesticide use since 1990 (an estimated 4.1 million tonnes of pesticides were used worldwide in 2017). 

The researchers point to under-reporting to explain the relatively low estimates of fatalities. Under-reporting is also an issue for pesticide poisonings overall, as many country-specific reporting systems lack a central reporting point or lack a legal mechanism requiring incident reporting.

The authors conclude that the heavy burden of non-fatal, unintended pesticide poisonings, particularly for farmers and farmworkers, brings into focus the current policy bias towards focusing only on fatalities, and highlights the need to more seriously address the overall pesticide poisoning problem in international and national policies and regulations.


Read more at PAN website 

Reference: Boedeker, W., Watts, M., Clausing, P. et al. The global distribution of acute unintentional pesticide poisoning: estimations based on a systematic review. BMC Public Health 20, 1875 (2020)

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