Don't wait until air pollution is too big to fix

Monday, October 23, 2017

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A report released last week by scientists presented a bit of information that did not get massive attention despite the implications it has for human survival.

The scientists, writing in The Lancet medical journal, reported that pollution claimed the lives of nine million people in 2015, which amounted to one in every six deaths that year.

Almost all the deaths — 92 per cent — occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with air pollution being the main culprit, killing 6.5 million people, the scientists noted.

They also pointed out that two countries — India and China — accounted for almost half of the total death toll.

A co-author of the report, Karti Sandilya of Pure Earth, an anti-pollution non-governmental organisation, was reported as saying: “Pollution and related diseases most often affect the world's poor and powerless, and victims are often the vulnerable and the voiceless.

“As a result, pollution threatens fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, health, well-being, safe work, as well as protection of children and the most vulnerable.”

The scientists also pointed out that, proportionally, low-income countries pay 8.3 per cent of their gross national income to pollution-related death and disease, while high-income countries pay 4.5 per cent.

The report added that, aside from outright poisoning, pollution causes an array of deadly ailments such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The researchers also made the point that air pollution was the deadliest form as it was responsible for more than two-thirds of deaths. This, it was reported, includes outdoor pollution from factory and car emissions, and indoor pollution from wood, charcoal, coal, dung, or crop waste being burnt for heating and cooking.

Although air pollution is reported to be heaviest in rapidly industrialised countries, such as India, China, Kenya, Madagascar, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, our interest in this research was sparked by recent news of poor air quality in Jamaica, particularly in sections of Kingston and Portmore, St Catherine.

Anyone travelling on our roads daily will see motor vehicles spewing clouds of smoke, and the owners/drivers are allowed to get away with this in the absence of motor vehicle emission standards accompanied by strict monitoring.

Industrial operations, too, we are told, basically get a free pass because the National Environment and Planning Agency is not equipped to conduct proper air quality tests.

Add to those the cultural practice of burning rubbish, and the production of charcoal via the burning of trees, and you get a picture of a country inviting pollution-related death and ailment on its residents.

Let us not wait until the problem is too huge to be effectively addressed. The authorities know what needs to be done, therefore they need to do it now. As the editors of The Lancet noted: “Pollution is a winnable battle.... current and future generations deserve a pollution-free world.”




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