91% premature deaths due to air pollution in low and middle-income countries: UNEP.

In the run up to the World Environment Day with its theme of “air pollution”, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Thursday urged governments across the globe to deal with this silent killer by adopting 4Rs - reduce, recycle, reuse, recover - in their respective national policies and flagged how dirty air hurts the poorest most as 91% of premature deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries.

Its latest report on measuring progress on environmental aspects of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) shows that the mortality rate attributed to air pollution was highest in ‘Sub-Sahara Africa’ and ‘Central & Southern Asia’ with 187 and 170 deaths per lakh of population, respectively.


India figures in the ‘Central & Souther Asia’ SDGs’ regional grouping along with 13 other countries of this region including its South Asian neighbours and Iran.

“This report makes us conscious of India's unique vulnerability. Disease burden of air pollution is expected to be high in India because of high incidence of poverty, high exposure of the majority to pollution sources, use of highly polluting fuels and technologies especially solid fuels for cooking, and very weak pollution control in small scale industrial units,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, head of air pollution and clean transportation programme at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Noting how the exposure to polluted air combined with malnutrition and poor health status of the population, in fact, increase public health risk manifold, she said, “Even the rich cannot be safe if poor people cannot breathe clean air.”

The ‘Sub-Sahara Africa’ regional grouping consists of all the poor countries of this continent along with developing nations such as South Africa and Kenya.

he report notes that the relatively richer regions, on the other hand, reported comparatively lesser number of deaths. The figures show that ‘Australia and New Zealand’ together reported only 8 deaths per one lakh of population while the Europe reported 13 deaths, North America reported 89 deaths and ‘East and South-East Asia’ which includes China reported 106 deaths per one lakh of population.

The UNEP in its report analysed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) data which had put the total estimated number of deaths globally due to indoor and outdoor (ambient) air pollution at 7 million in 2016.

Recently the ‘State of Global Air 2019’, released by the Health Effects Institute (an independent global health and air pollution research institute) showed that the exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to over 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017.

Though India had never denied serious health implications of air pollution, it preferred not to endorse international studies including those from the WHO. The government here on several occasions told the Parliament that these estimates were merely based on “models, simulations and extrapolations”.

“Though air pollution is one of the triggering factors for respiratory ailments and associated diseases, there are no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlation of death/disease exclusively due to air pollution,” the government told the Parliament even in last winter session, held during the period when Delhi and most of the cities in the Indo-Gangetic plain suffered due to severe air pollution condition. (Source: The Economic Times)

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