Air pollution is bad for health — of course. But now a World Health Organization report has put a real number on just how bad:
“…in 2012 around 7 million people died (prematurely)…as a result of air pollution exposure.”
This translates into a sobering statistic: breathing dirty air accounts for 1 of every 8 deaths worldwide.
Major Link to Cardiovascular Disease and More
The report breaks down this mortality figure by disease, exposing air pollution’s link to ischaematic heart disease and stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as cancer and pneumonia.
WHO’s finding confirms that “air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental risk.”
Bearing the Brunt
Low- and middle-income people in the Western Pacific (especially rapidly urbanizing northern China) and South-East Asia regions, bear the greatest burden. Outdoor air pollution is linked to as many as 2.6 million deaths in those areas, and 3.7 million deaths worldwide.
Most surprising, perhaps, is that more deaths — 4.3 million — are linked to indoor air pollution chiefly caused by cooking and heating.
Home is Where the Hearth Is
It is estimated that 2.9 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires or simple stoves which burn coal, wood, animal dung and crop waste. In addition to contributing to climate change at the regional and global level, this type of pollution is very direct in its immediate deleterious effects on those who endure it.
Kirk Smith, a professor of global environmental health at the University of California at Berkeley has said, “Having an open fire in your kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour in your kitchen.”
Most Vulnerable: Women and Children
“Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.” — Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children’s Health.
In fact, WHO estimates that pneumonia caused by inhaling particulate matter (soot) in the home accounts for more than 50% of premature deaths among children under 5 years old. Nearly 25% of all premature deaths due to stroke (about 1.4 million) are caused by chronic exposure to cooking with solid fuels. One-half of those deaths are women.
Working Toward Solutions
One angle of attack on indoor pollution was launched in 2010 with the help of the U.S. Department of State under Hilary Clinton, and the Environmental Protection Agency: The Global Alliance for Clean Stoves. Part aid organization, part venture-capital broker, the alliance hopes to place “green” (or, at least, “greener”) stoves in 100 million homes worldwide by 2020. (Just this past week a factory opened in Nairobi, Kenya, which will manufacture affordable, “clean-burning” stoves that are 50% more efficient than the next best option.)
As for solutions to outdoor air pollution, WHO notes:
“Most sources of outdoor pollution are well beyond the control of individuals and demand action by cities, as well as national and international policymakers in sectors like transport, energy waste management, buildings and agriculture.”
Yes, but individuals, banding together, need to demand such action. And that’s what Moms Clean Air Force is all about. Pressure bought to bear on the polluters and the politicians.
Because no matter where in the world we live, we all have the right to breathe clean air. Join us.