The potential cost of pesticide-related illnesses in sub-Saharan African between 2005 and 2020 could reach $90 billion (£55bn), the United Nations warned today.
It said the estimated cost of pesticide poisoning exceeds the total amount of international aid for basic health services for the region, excluding HIV/Aids.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that the increasing production of chemicals, especially in emerging economies, is damaging the environment and increasing health costs.
It urged governments and industry to step-up efforts to produce and use chemicals that minimise adverse effects on human health.
Rachel Massey of the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute warned that chemical production is growing worldwide but the growth is most rapid in emerging economies.
For the next eight years, she said, chemical production in North America and Europe is expected to grow by about 25 per cent compared with growth of about 50 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region, about 40 per cent in Africa and the Middle East and about 33 per cent in Latin America.
UNEP said that chemicals have become so important to daily life that the value of their output has grown to $4.12 trillion (£2.6trn), compared to $171bn (£100bn) 40 years ago.
But of the more than 140,000 chemicals on the market today, UNEP said only a fraction have been thoroughly evaluated for effects on health and the environment.
Poisoning from industrial and agricultural chemicals is among the top five leading causes of death worldwide, contributing to over one million deaths annually.