A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) says as many as 13 million deaths could be prevented yearly by reducing environmental risks.
The study released on Wednesday said that Afghanistan and the African countries of Angola, Burkina Faso and Mali are among the most affected by environmental troubles.
In 23 countries, more than 10 per cent of deaths can be traced to two risk factors: unsafe drinking water and indoor air pollution caused by the burning of so-called solid fuels - wood, cow dung or coal for cooking, the WHO said.
WHO said its results were based on 2002 data from national health authorities, reviews of scientific literature and expert surveys. It also encompasses data collected by the WHO.
But WHO officials stressed the report was a preliminary estimate of how environmental factors affect health.
"We would be very glad if these country-by-country figures are used as the basis for a discussion on effective countermeasures," said Susanne Weber-Mosdorf, the WHO's assistant director general for sustainable development and healthy environments.
Simple water purification methods could decrease the rate of diseases such as diarrhea that affect many children, Weber-Mosdorf told a news conference in Vienna.
Around the world, children under five years old make up 74 per cent of deaths from diarrhea and respiratory infections, the WHO said.
The report also highlights that more developed countries are not immune to environmental health risks.
Thirty-seven children die each day of water-related diarrhea in Europe, mostly in eastern and central parts of the region, according to WHO.
The WHO suggested that using gas or electricity for cooking, improving ventilation or keeping children away from smoke could reduce the number of deaths.
In 53 countries in Europe an estimated 1.8 million deaths could be prevented each year if more efforts were made to create a healthier environment.
In Netherlands alone about 21,000 people die every year due to the impact of environmental factors.
This number could be cut by 14 percent by improving the quality of people's living environment, the Dutch daily De Volkskrant reported on Thursday.
The Dutch National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP) had earlier come to similar conclusions in recent reports.
With 16 years of life lost per 1,000 residents a year due to illnesses induced by environmental factors, the Netherlands ranks among the countries with the highest figures in the world, among many other West European countries.
The WHO uses the term "environment" in the broad sense to include "pollution, occupational factors, UV radiation, noise, agricultural methods, climate and ecosystem change, the constructed environment and people's behavior."
This means that deaths and injuries as a result of road accidents, for example, are also taken into account.