A new World Health Organisation (WHO) report says an estimated 12.6 million or (1.26 crore) people are dying each year globally from ‘unhealthy environment’ alone.
Air pollution woes in Delhi and other Indian cities stubbornly refuse to go away. A new World Health Organisation (WHO) report says an estimated 12.6 million or (1.26 crore) people are dying each year globally from ‘unhealthy environment’ alone. This is one of every four casualty across the globe.
Of these, two thirds, or 8.2 million (82 lakh), deaths are from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as strokes, heart attacks, cancers and chronic respiratory ailments only.
The lion’s share of this mortality is borne by Southeast Asia, which as per the UNO’s public health wing is seeing 3.8 million deaths annually. India is the largest country in WHO’s denomination of Southeast Asia which also covers Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
While fortunately, the overall figure has climbed down from 13 million deaths in the last WHO report in 2006, the devil lies in the detail. It says though “deaths from infectious diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria, arising from poor water and sanitation have declinedâ€¦those attributable to air pollution, have gone up”.
Predictably, children and elders are the worst-affected. The report says annually, deaths of 1.7 million children (under the age of 5) and 4.9 million adults (between ages 50 to 75) could be prevented through better environmental management. Lower respiratory infections mostly impact children under the age of 5, while older people are impacted by other NCDs, it underlines.
In 2014, a WHO ‘air quality database’ of 1,600 cities and 91 countries declared Delhi as the worst polluted in the world, sparking off a big public debate. It ranked Karachi (117 ug/m3), Dhaka (86 ug/m3) and even Beijing (56 ugm/m3) above Delhi’s air quality level in terms of Particulate Matter 2.5 concentration. PM 2.5 is an ultrafine dust which permeates into the lower lung system, eventually entering the bloodstream and causing asthma, heart attacks and cancer. The WHO standard for it is just 10 ug/m3 annually.
Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said, “A healthy environment underpins a healthy population. If countries do not take action to better environments where people live and work, millions will continue to become ill and die too young.” At least 21.8 per cent of the disease burden in Disability-adjusted Life Years (DALYs) was also attributed to environmental factors by the report.
Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, commented, “By 2050, the proportion of people living in cities is expected to grow to two in three people. Cities are not known as healthy places. Heavy traffic, limited green spaces, air pollution, noise and violence all deteriorate our health. ”
She highlighted, “Many cities have already begun devising strategies to reduce environmental risk. In 2011, the City of Cape Town, South Africa, launched a new bus rapid transit system called MyCiti. It connects to a network of cycling paths and upgraded walkways, making it possible to walk or cycle to a bus stop in an integrated fashion.”
Plus, she added, all low- and middle income countries must start using cleaner fuels for cooking. It would result in reductions in acute respiratory infections, chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and burns – all at once. “It would result in millions worth of healthcare savings too,” she pointed out.