UN: China, India lead in premature deaths from pollution
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UN: China, India lead in premature deaths from pollution

It is hardly news that in recent years China and India have experienced rapid industrialization and economic growth. As a result, millions upon millions have been lifted out of poverty in both countries.

For the environment and for many individuals, this had come at a staggering cost. Sadly, news about Asian growth is all the more often accompanied by news regarding the growth-related smog that chokes the cities of the East.

A deadly warning about air pollution

The latest figures to be released by the World Health Organization and its parent organization, the United Nations, show that each year, 3.3 million people die prematurely due to air pollution on a global scale. Rather than due to respiratory illnesses, as previously believed, most of these deaths — roughly three quarters of them — are from strokes and heart attacks.

Asia leads in pollution-related deaths

1.4 million, close to half of the world’s annual pollution-related premature deaths, occur in China, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000.

Though according to the WHO, air quality is worse in large Indian cities when compared to those in China, a higher level of urbanization and an overall greater population probably play significant roles in China’s higher pollution-related death toll.

Bad public health is bad economics

While heavy industry, such as mining and manufacturing, certainly contributes to economic growth, employment and wealth creation, the pollution caused by too much industrial activity, especially when poorly regulated, creates an unhealthy living situation for both those who benefit economically and those who don’t. Likewise, the increased traffic from freight and private transportation that accompany this aforementioned growth further decreases air quality, especially in urban and industrial areas.

Poor environmental regulations — or those that are poorly enforced — may allow businesses and state entities to cut short-term costs. However, public health crises resulting from the above factors actually cost both the state and private corporations immense amounts of money due to 1) medical expenses for those whose health is adversely affected by pollution and 2) lost labor resulting from sick workers.

Maria Neira, head of public health at the UN’s World Health Organization, is quoted in the Observer:

Before, we knew that pollution was responsible for diseases like pneumonia and asthma. Now we know that it leads to bloodstream, heart and cardiovascular diseases, too – even dementia. We are storing up problems. These are chronic diseases that require hospital beds. The cost will be enormous.

New news or same old story?

Shocking as the forthcoming WHO statistics sound, a study published over four years ago in the medical journal Lancet said almost exactly the same thing. It estimated that 3.2 million global deaths per year were caused by air pollution, naming South Asia as a particularly vulnerable region.

Whether the deaths come via strokes, heart attacks or respiratory illnesses, bad air quality is the culprit and it’s going to take a lot more than canisters of fresh mountain air from Alberta, Canada for millions of Asians to breathe easier.


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