New figures to be released from the World Health Organization show some incredibly alarming statistics on global pollution. The impact it has on health cannot be understated. According to the data it kills more people annually than HIV and Malaria combined. Yet the misery doesn’t stop at death. It also causes millions to suffer from chronic illnesses such as asthma and lung inflammation.
The majority of these cases stem from China and India, which are home to the most polluted cities in the world. However, the United States and Europe also must contend with a rise in preventable illness and death.
Officials from the WHO also point out that while we are dealing with the immediate effects of pollution – we need to prepare ourselves for what may come.
“This is the first generation in human experience exposed to such high levels of pollution. In the 19th century pollution was bad, but it was concentrated in just a few places,” said Maria Neira, the public health chief for the WHO. “Now there are huge numbers of people living with high levels of pollution. Nearly 70 per cent of people in cities are exposed to pollution above recommended levels.”
We already know that particle air pollution and ozone pollution can cause cardiovascular diseases, reproductive harm, swelling of lung tissue, asthma and increased danger of infection. In children it can also cause developmental disorders.
And there’s evidence to suggest that moving to greener pastures might not mitigate the initial damage done by pollutants inhaled in early life. One study from Southern California Children’s Health found that, “Tracking 1,759 children between ages 10 and 18, researchers found that those who grew up in more polluted areas face the increased risk of having underdeveloped lungs, which may never recover to their full capacity.”
And although most of the biggest offenders are in Asia, the reality is that Europe and the U.S. are also feeling the brunt of smog. In March of last year the UK government put out a warning as large clouds of smog covered cities in western Europe. And the issue was home grown, with over 90 percent of the smog being generated on the European continent.
However the study does point out that those affected the most will be in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China. In September of 2015, the Times of India reported on a study done by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry that found that deaths due to air pollution in India were in for a meteoric rise. The study showed that if industry continued to expand at current rates, the number of deaths in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata were expected to triple from 2010 to 2050.
Promises made at the COP21 Paris climate talks do give some hope that we will not reach these future predicted levels. However, it should be clear that our current state is so bad that the WHO considers it a “public health emergency” for millions around the world.
There have been some strides made this year. In China, India and Milan, tightened restrictions on vehicle use and licensing have attempted to cut down on the amount of pollution. However, many note that even with the restrictions on vehicles, there need to be far heavier controls placed over industries and factories.
Yet even in countries that pledged to stop climate change, this has been a challenge. Multiple news agencies have pointed to the expansion of coal ports in Australia and UK subsidies for the fossil fuel industry as proof that governments are undercutting environmental programs. It is asinine that the UK government would issue health alerts for smog in March and then increase subsidies for fossil fuels only months later. Continued implementation of such environmentally disastrous projects will only mean a future marred by deaths we could have easily prevented.