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New issues and new accidents

By 1990, at least 900 million people in urban areas in Africa, Asia and Latin America were living in poverty

Source: UNEP, Topham Picturepoint

Catching the scientific world as well as policy makers by surprise, measurements by British researchers of the size of the ozone hole were first reported in 1985 (Farnham, Gardiner and Shanklin 1985). The Global 2000 report recognized for the first time that species extinction was threatening biodiversity as an essential component of the Earth's ecosystems (US Government 1980). As the interdependence of environment and development became increasingly clear, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the World Charter for Nature, bringing attention to the intrinsic value of species and ecosystems (UN 1982).

Besides new discoveries, the 1980s also saw a range of catastrophic events that left a permanent mark both on the environment and on the understanding of its connection to human health. In 1984, a leak from a Union Carbide plant left 3 000 people dead and 20 000 injured in Bhopal, India (Diamond 1985). The same year, up to 1 million people starved to death in Ethiopia. In 1986, the world's worst nuclear accident happened as a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in the Ukrainian Republic of the Soviet Union. The 1989 spill of 50 million litres of oil from the Exxon Valdez supertanker into Alaska's Prince William Sound demonstrated that no area, however remote and 'pristine', is safe from the impact of human activities.