Air pollution: The 'silent killer' that claims seven million lives a year

Air pollution: The 'silent killer' that claims seven million lives a year
An Indian municipal laborer works in front of obscured buildings due to smog near the Arabian sea coast in Mumbai, India, 02 March 2019. Reports state that India's air pollution comes prominently from diesel fuel burning vehicles, coal fired power stations and crop burning. Picture: EPA/ Divyakant Solanki.

A United Nations-appointed expert on human rights has highlighted the need to change to renewable energy amid concerns that six billion people regularly inhale air "so polluted that it puts their life, health and well-being at risk".

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment David Boyd spoke at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and said that air pollution is a "silent, sometimes invisible, prolific killer" that affects women and girls more than men.

An estimated seven million lives are taken, 600,000 of those children, because of air pollution both in and outside homes.

File image of the smog in China.
File image of the smog in China.

Mr Boyd said: "Air pollutants are everywhere, largely caused by burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and heating, as well as from industrial activities, poor waste management and agricultural practices.

Every hour, 800 people are dying, many after years of suffering, from cancer, respiratory illnesses or heart disease directly caused by breathing polluted air.

Changing to renewable energy could save 150m lives by the end of the century.

Just last month, residents of the coal mining towns of Prokopyevsk, Kiselyovsk and Leninsk-Kuznetsky in Siberia were shocked to find that the snow had turned a toxic black after a factory's shield designed to protect the air from coal powder, ceased to work.

Case study: India

India is one of the world's most polluted countries, ranked 177 out of 180 in the Environmental Performance Index 2018. Of the 20 cities with the highest levels of air pollution, 13 are in India.

Fuel wood and biomass burning are the leading causes of the pollution and are used by an estimated 100 million people daily for heating homes and cooking purposes.

A government funded programme has been introduced to provide women with funds to purchase natural gas stoves in order to help families switch to cleaner cooking fuel, with the goal to equip 95% of families by 2022.

However, the issue stretches far beyond what is used to cook dinner, and efforts are needed to tackle fuel adulteration and traffic congestion, though it is a welcome start.

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