The United Nations guidelines on air pollution from cars and factories that can cause heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and acute lower respiratory infections could save over a million lives a year – if they were adhered to!
The WHO has conducted “unprecedented” compilation of data from nearly 1,100 cities across 91 countries and found that city air is often thick with exhaust fumes, factory smoke or soot from coal burning power plants. It is estimated that about two million die each year from inhaling pollution particles. PM10 is a particularly dangerous type of particle that penetrates the lungs and even the bloodstream and causes numerous diseases. While only few cities meet UN guidelines of less than 20 micrograms per cubic meter, many cities have been found to have more than 300 micrograms PM10 per cubic meter.
Especially fast-growing urban slum areas are affected by such conditions, but while in India, major metropolitan areas such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata have banned the construction of new power plants within city limits, lack of public transport has led to an explosion of privately owned cars. Most of these cars run on subsidized diesel.
“Local actions, national policies and international agreements are all needed to curb pollution and reduce its widespread health effects,” said Michal Krzyzanowski, Head of the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health. Economies suffer, too. Health care costs and lost productivity drag on business.
While WHO said the reasons for high pollution levels varied, rapid industrialization and the use of poor quality fuels for transportation and electricity generation are often to blame. Transport, small-scale manufacturers and other industries, burning of biomass and coal for cooking and heating and coal-fired power plants have been identified as the largest contributors of air pollution.
Some of the most PM10 polluted cities in the world include Ahvaz (Iran), Ulan Bator (Mongolia), Kanpur (India), Gaborone (Botswana) and Quetta (Pakistan). Life-threatening levels of air pollution, acid rain and free-flowing sewage are everyday occurrences in some of those places, and on top of making residents’ lives miserable the pollutants are also contributing to climate change – yet another risk factor for many of the world’s poorest places.
At the other end of the spectrum are Canada and the United States, which benefit from lower population density, favorable climates and stricter air pollution regulation.
I really don’t understand how anybody can be against a swift move towards clean energy, as the prime suspects for air-pollution are all ones that could be drastically reduced or even avoided!