Though an intensifying global bad-air problem, not all doom and gloom, World Bank report shows

The World Bank with assistance from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle, last year, released its The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action study.

As to the seriousness of the air-pollution problem, The World Bank shared some sobering thoughts.

“Air pollution is recognized today as a major health risk. Exposure to air pollution, both ambient and household, increases a person’s risk of contracting a disease such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis. According to the latest available estimates, in 2013, 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide, or 1 in every 10 total deaths, were attributable to air pollution. Air pollution has posed a significant health risk since the early 1990s, the earliest period for which global estimates of exposure and health effects are available.”1

Worldwide, air pollution is the fourth leading risk factor of premature death in 2013, as was also true in 1990 (with 4.8 million air-pollution attributable early deaths), according to The World Bank.2

Air pollution, according to The World Bank definition, includes household air pollution, ambient fine-particulate matter (PM 2.5) and ambient ozone.3

PM 2.5’s impacts

Fine-particulate-matter pollution (PM 2.5 – particles the size of no more than about a thirtieth the width or diameter of the average human hair – less than 2.5 micrometers across) is globally health-impacting. It is prevalent in the air in places like Chatham/Kent, Ontario, Canada; Tasmania in New Zealand; Delhi in India; Beijing, China; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Bakersfield, California in the United States; Mexico City in Mexico and on and on the list goes. PM 2.5 can be found anywhere combustion occurs where the fuel burned, whether petroleum, coal, peat, wood, oil and various other fuels – fossil or otherwise, doesn’t completely burn (burns at less than 100 percent efficiency, in other words). When these particles are breathed in they can lodge deep in the lungs or enter the bloodstream and are known to lead or contribute to a number of diseases including ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory system disease, stroke, pneumonia, lung cancer and premature death.

And, as far as the problem goes, it is a mixed bag.

Consider this:

Ambient PM 2.5 pollution was responsible for 2,928,000 global deaths in 2013, The World Bank found, which compares with 2,238,000 deaths in 1990.4

When looking at the number of deaths per 100,000 people for those same two years, in 2013, the number is 239, whereas in 1990, the number of deaths per 100,000 people is 272.5

With regard to deaths per one-hundred-thousand people, the world’s PM 2.5 pollution problem has improved somewhat, and that’s encouraging.

Giving soot the boot: Further signs of encouragement

Cited below: “Box 1.2 Using an Air Quality Management Study and Economic Valuation to Help Ulaanbaatar Forge a Strategy to Combat Air Pollution,” from The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action report.

“Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, is one of the world’s coldest capital cities. In recent years, it has also become known as one of the world’s most polluted cities. Most of the city’s air pollution appears during the winters, when 180,000 or so households living in informal settlements marked by traditional circular tents known as gers burn raw coal in stoves for heating and cooking. As a result, despite having a population of only 1.2 million, Ulaanbaatar has experienced levels of air pollution worse than those in much larger cities such as Beijing and Delhi.

“In 2007 efforts to replace the traditional heating stoves in the ger areas met with resistance from Ulaanbaatar government officials, who were not certain they wanted to prioritize stove removal, particularly given the cost. This led to a full-scale air quality management study, seeking a complete understanding of the sources, concentration levels, and health impacts of pollution and outlining the most cost-effective abatement options for the short, medium, and long term. The study revealed that switching out existing stoves with cleaner-burning, more efficient ones would yield net health benefits of $1.6 billion. The benefits of pursuing other options, such as moving ger households into apartments, would have come later. However, that delay would result in health-related losses of up to $3.5 billion if more immediate action was not taken. Delaying stove replacement by just three years would lead to health-related losses of about $1.0 billion.

“Armed with the results of this analysis, Ulaanbaatar decided to go ahead with the stove replacement program as one of the main pillars of its strategy to reduce air pollution. Since 2010, Ulaanbaatar has replaced nearly 170,000 stoves, reaching more than 90 percent of households in the ger areas. Continued monitoring of PM2.5 has revealed a notable reduction in pollution levels since the baseline study; yearly average concentrations declined from over 250 μg/m3 in 2008-09 to around 80 μg/m3 in 2014-15. Although a longer period of monitoring will be needed to establish definite trends in concentrations, these initial improvements are reason for optimism.”6

Cause for hope? You bet!

Where to look to learn more

For much more on The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action, the joint World Bank, IHME study, go here.

Notes

  1. World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 2016. The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO (“Executive Summary, Introduction,” p. x)
  2. Ibid. This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  3. Ibid (“2. Health Impacts of Air Pollution: Trends in Exposure and Health Impacts from Ambient and Household Air Pollution, Total Health Impacts of Air Pollution,” p. 22). This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  4. Ibid (“Figure 2.5 Total Deaths from Ambient PM2.5 Pollution by Region, 1990 and 2013,” p. 28). This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  5. Ibid (“Figure 2.8 Deaths per 100,000 People from Ambient PM2.5 Pollution by Region, 1990 and 2013,” p. 30). This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  6. World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 2016. The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO (“Introduction, The Focus of This Report, Box. 1.2 Using an Air Quality Management Study and Economic Valuation to Help Ulaanbaatar Forge a Strategy to Combat Air Pollution,” p. 6

About Alan Kandel

Alan turned hardscrabble technology related experience into a professional writing gig and has never looked back. Alan resides in California's heartland - the San Joaquin Valley.

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