Breathing polluted air increases the risk of debilitating and deadly diseases such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis.File photo
By PATRICK MAYOYO
Air pollution has emerged as the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths worldwide according to the latest joint study by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
The study shows that while pollution-related deaths mainly strike young children and the elderly, these deaths also result in lost labor income for working-age men and women.
The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the economic case for action, a joint study of the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), seeks to estimate the costs of premature deaths related to air pollution, to strengthen the case for action and facilitate decision making in the context of scarce resources.
An estimated 5.5 million lives were lost in 2013 to diseases associated with outdoor and household air pollution, causing human suffering and reducing economic development.
Those deaths cost the global economy about US$225 billion in lost labor income in 2013 and more than US$5 trillion in welfare losses, pointing toward the economic burden of air pollution.
Breathing polluted air increases the risk of debilitating and deadly diseases such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis. Air pollution is now the world’s fourth-leading fatal health risk, causing one in ten deaths in 2013.
At the same time, air pollution from industries, construction sites, agricultural practices, vehicles, and the combustion of dirty energy sources continues to grow.
About 87 percent of the world’s population now live in countries in which ambient pollution levels exceed air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization.
In low- and middle-income countries, the danger is even more pronounced: 90 percent of the population in these countries was exposed to dangerous levels of ambient air pollution in 2013.
To reduce the number of people gradually being contaminated by the air they breathe, pollution control would need to be at the top of the agenda for most governments.
However, in most countries, such expenditure competes with other budgetary priorities and policy objectives. Demonstrating the economic burden of pollution can help tilt the balance of decisions in favor of investments in clean air.
This study is the result of a collaboration between the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle.
The World Bank study shows that air pollution from motor vehicles, industries, construction sites, agricultural practices and the combustion of dirty energy sources continues to grow. File photo
It represents an effort to merge cutting edge science and rigorous economic analysis for the good of public health.
The study has found that premature deaths due to air pollution in 2013 cost the global economy about $225 billion in lost labor income, or about $5.11 trillion in welfare losses worldwide.
That is about the size of the gross domestic product of India, Canada, and Mexico Combined and a sobering wake-up call.
However impressive and abstract these large numbers are, it is our hope that the cost of premature deaths for countries’ economies will leave the pages of this study and inform public debate and policy decisions at the national level.
In country after country, the cost of pollution in human lives and on the quality of life is too high. We must work together to reduce it.
The study shows that air pollution is recognized today as a major health risk and exposure to air pollution, both ambient and household, increases a person’s risk of contracting a disease such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis.
According to the latest available estimates, in 2013, 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide, or 1 in every 10 total deaths, were attributable to air pollution.
“Air pollution has posed a significant health risk since the early 1990s, the earliest period for which global estimates of exposure and health effects are available. In 1990, as in 2013, air pollution was the fourth leading fatal health risk worldwide, resulting in 4.8 million premature deaths,” the study notes.
It adds that air pollution is especially severe in some of the world’s fastest-growing urban regions, where greater economic activity is contributing to higher levels of pollution and to greater exposure.
But air pollution is also a problem outside cities. Billions of people around the world continue to depend on burning solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal, and dung in their homes for cooking and heating.
“Consequently, the health risk posed by air pollution is the greatest in developing Countries,” the report observes.
In 2013 about 93 percent of deaths and nonfatal illnesses attributed to air pollution worldwide occurred in these countries, where 90 percent of the population was exposed to dan-gerous levels of air pollution.
“Children under age 5 in lower-income countries are more than 60 times as likely to die from exposure to air pollution as children in high-income countries,” the study says.
It emphasis that air pollution is not just a health risk but also a drag on development: By causing illness and premature death, air pollution reduces the quality of life.
“By causing a loss of productive labor, it also reduces incomes in these countries,” the study adds.
It notes that air pollution can have a lasting effect on productivity in other ways as well—for example, by stunting plant growth and reducing the productivity of agriculture, and by making cities less attractive to talented workers, thereby reducing cities’ competitiveness.
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