Air pollution kills more than eight million people worldwide every year. The World Health Organization reports that 9 of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. From smoke inside our homes to smog covering cities, pollution remains a major threat to climate and health. Household and ambient air pollution lead to increased mortality from heart diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory infections, and lung cancer. About 80% of people in urban areas are exposed to poor air quality, but those in low- and middle-income countries suffer the most. Ambient air pollution affects both developed and developing countries alike, but people in developing countries bear the highest consequence. Outdoor pollution is linked to power generation, industries, building heating systems, and vehicles. Household air pollution is one of the major causes of respiratory-related deaths, especially in developing countries. Exposure to poisonous gases from cooking fire causes the death of about 3.8 million people annually, many in middle and low-income states. Burning wood, coal, dung, and inefficient stoves release carbon monoxide, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, methane, and volatile organic compounds. At least 8 million people die annually from pollution-related complications representing 15% of total global deaths. India is the most affected, with about 2.33 million, followed by China, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
Pollution In India
Air pollution in India is so rampant that it leads to about 2.3 million deaths annually. About 12.5% or one in eight deaths is related to heart disease, respiratory infections, lung cancer, stroke, or diabetes, all of which are related to air pollution. More than three-quarters of India is exposed to higher than the recommended levels of pollution. None of the 29 States and 7 Union territories achieve the recommended rate of air quality set by the World Health Organization. Thanks to air pollution, the average life expectancy in the country has been cut by 5.3 years, while those living in Bulandshahr and Hapur districts of Delhi have their life expectancy reduced by 12 years. Over the past three decades, India has experienced an increase in industrial and vehicle emissions and the burning of wood, crop residue, and charcoal.
Pollution in China
China faces about 1.8 million deaths and loses US$38 billion as a result of air pollution. China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and its population is likely to suffer more. Since the 1970s, China has developed rapidly to become the world's second-largest economy after the United States. It is also the world's most populous country. The consequence of these two achievements is increased waste and pollution. The subsidized cost of production has invited thousands of industries from across the world, leading to increased air pollution. Rural China is experiencing an increase in respiratory problems due to dependency on biomass and coal for heating and cooking. Major cities such as Beijing grapple with smog and vehicle emissions.
Pollution In The United States
Despite being the world's largest economy, the United States loses approximately two hundred thousand people to pollution-related illnesses. This should not come as a shock considering that it is the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. The situation is worsening as it struggles to keep hold of its economic status upon competition from China and the European Union. The concentration of pollutants has increased by about 5.5% since 2016, owing to an increase in the use of natural gas and vehicle ownership. This trend offsets progress made by reduced dependence on coal.
Air Pollution Hurts The Poorest
The effects of air pollution are more prominent in the poor due to the high cost of treating respiratory complications. Most pollution-related deaths are in developing countries where laws are either weak or non-existent, coal and wood use is prevalent, and vehicle emission standards are of less concern. An example is Kenya's capital, Nairobi, where huge smoldering dumpsites litter the slums. For people living and downwind of the dumpsites, exposure to toxic fumes and foul smell affects their health and wellbeing. Informal settlements like the slums of Nairobi, Mumbai, Delhi, Jakarta, and Lagos are inhabited by the poor who are unable to access proper medical care. These people resort to burning wood, kerosene, charcoal, or any other material for cooking, lighting, or heating inside poorly ventilated houses. Every person has the right to clean air, which is also a precondition for addressing global warming and climate change as well as achieving the Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals. Pollution affects not only human health but also hampers the economy.
Planning Cities to Reduce Air Pollution
The concept of intelligent urban planning to minimize pollution is not new. By the early 1970s, urban planners were already remodeling cities to cope with rising populations and motor vehicles. Cities should be designed to reduce vehicle use by improving walking and cycling infrastructure, and public transport systems. China's capital city Beijing is one of the most affected by air pollution. Its pollution index is about 160 out of 500. In 2017 the city banned vehicles for two weeks as part of a pollution study. The air quality improved significantly to below17 units, and the sky became visible. Cities such as Bologna and London have limited access to zones where vehicles are not allowed access to curb pollution.
Going green means more than reducing greenhouse emissions and using renewable energy. It includes creating environmentally sustainable cities and developing long-term solutions to curb air pollution. The Green Roof Initiative in Chicago promotes the planting of plants in empty roof spaces in the city to help absorb CO2. Seattle has begun revising its zoning laws to allow people within the city to practice crop farming and livestock keeping to reduce emissions from the large amounts of food shipped from distant agricultural lands. Reducing emissions throughout the world will not only create clean air to breathe, but it will also reduce the probability of contracting pollution-related diseases and deaths. Everyone agrees that pollution is a problem, but few are willing to do something about it.