BY AVA TORJANI
On September 27, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) released data on air pollution levels across different countries and their impact on human health. Air pollution includes the presence of particulates in the air that can have detrimental effects on the environment and health. These particulates include black carbon and methane, which are produced by vehicle engines, agriculture, waste, oil, and gas sectors. Given the prevalent presence of these particulate manufacturers in today’s society, it is to no surprise that the data released by WHO was nothing short of unsettling.
Figure 1: Air pollution levels based on WHO data. Green-yellow-orange-red spectrum represent low-medium-high levels respectively.
First, the facts:
- Globally, the level of air pollution has risen by 8% in the last 5 years.
- 92% of the world’s population live in areas that don’t meet WHO’s standards for air quality.
- The three cities with the highest levels of air pollution are Onitsha (Nigeria), Peshawar (Pakistan), and Zabol (Iran) respectively.
- Nearly 90% of deaths associated with air pollution occur in low and middle income countries.
- Almost 1 in 7 children live in areas with the highest levels of air pollution.
These not only outline the current state of our world, but also pertain to many detrimental consequences to human health, particularly in younger generations. According to a recent article, air pollution is associated with increased blood vessel damage. Aruni Bhavnagar (Ph.D.), a co-author and Chairman of medicine at the University of Louisville, claimed that it “promotes the development of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke more pervasively and at an earlier stage than previously thought.”
The UNICEF executive director further extends on this disturbing finding by claiming that air pollution can permanently damage both children’s developing lungs and brains through inhalation and crossing of the blood-brain barrier.” Since air pollution has been found to cause 3 million pre-mature deaths per year, it is evident that these claims are not mere speculation, rather an urge to address an environmental issue that could destroy the future of younger generations.
So, have actions been taken to resolve this issue? WHO has already devised a list of interventions to reduce air pollution including substituting fossil fuels for renewable energy and improving ventilation for cooking. There also exist country-specific NGOs such as Greenpeace, which strives to reduce sources of air pollution in China by campaigning against the use of coal and in favor of renewable energy. Moreover, the World Bank has announced that it will launch a Pollution Management and Environmental Health program (PMEH) to improve air quality among low-income countries including Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa.
Nonetheless, such programs have not yet been implemented effectively and are not emphasized across all countries with high levels of air pollution. In fact, very recently, New Delhi reported a level of 750 micrograms per cubic meter of air particulates, which is 30 times greater than limit set by WHO. Although the city attempted to ban the entry of trucks and daily use of private vehicles, it lacks a long-term solution that is required to improve air quality.
All in all, it is distinctly clear that air pollution is a critical global issue that can cause extensive damage to human health and the environment. The most disturbing levels are found within low-income and economically growing countries, which indicates the need to establish long-term effective solutions within these areas. More urgently, there needs to be greater awareness and emphasis on the detrimental consequences of not addressing air pollution. This may lead one to question, can this be achieved universally? If not, perhaps we can always attempt to make use of air pollution like this.