Fine particle pollution represents “the greatest external threat to public health” worldwide, estimates the Institute of Energy Policy at the University of Chicago.
Air pollution poses a greater risk to global health than smoking or alcohol consumption, and this danger is exacerbated in certain regions of the world, such as Asia and Africa, details a study published on Tuesday.
But despite this observation, the funds allocated to the fight against air pollution represent only a tiny fraction of those dedicated, for example, to infectious diseases, points out the report.
The risks associated with air pollution
Fine particle pollution increases the risk of developing lung disease, heart disease, stroke or cancer. Permanent compliance with the threshold for exposure to fine particles set by the World Health Organization (WHO) would make it possible toincrease global life expectancy by 2.3 yearsestimates the EPIC, based on data collected in 2021.
By comparison, tobacco use reduces global life expectancy by an average of 2.2 years. Infant and maternal malnutrition reduces it by 1.6 years.
South Asia, the most affected region
In South Asia, region of the world most affected by air pollution, the effects on public health are very pronounced. According to EPIC models, the inhabitants of Bangladesh – where the average level of exposure to fine particles is estimated at 74 μg/m3 – could gain 6.8 years of life expectancy if the pollution threshold were lowered to 5 μg/m3, the level recommended by the WHO.
The capital of India, New Delhimakes, she, figure of “the most polluted megalopolis in the world”with an average annual rate of 126.5 μg/m3.
If international mechanisms exist to fight against HIV, malaria or tuberculosis, no equivalent exists for atmospheric pollution.
Conversely, China, has “made remarkable progress in its fight against air pollution” initiated in 2014, underlines, with AFP, Christa Hasenkopf, director of the programs on the quality of the air of the EPIC. The average air pollution in the country has thus decreased by 42.3% between 2013 and 2021, but remains six times higher than the threshold recommended by the WHO. If this progress continues over time, the Chinese population should gain an average of 2.2 years of life expectancy, estimates the EPIC.
Few means to fight against air pollution
But overall, the most exposed regions of the world to air pollution are those that receive the fewest resources to combat this risk, notes the report. “There is a deep gap between the places where the air is the most polluted and those where the most resources are collectively and globally deployed to solve this problem”, explains Christa Hasenkopf.
If international mechanisms exist to fight against HIV, malaria or tuberculosis, like the Global Fund, which deploys 4 billion dollars a year in the fight against these diseases, no equivalent exists for atmospheric pollution. “And yet, air pollution reduces the average life expectancy of a person in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Cameroon more than HIV, malaria and others,” the report points out.
All these efforts are threatened, among other things, by the multiplication of forest fires around the world (…) which cause peaks in air pollution.
To UNITED STATESthe federal program Clean Air Act has helped reduce air pollution by 64.9% since 1970, allowing the average life expectancy of Americans to increase by 1.4 years.
In Europethe improvement in air quality over the past decades has followed the dynamics of that observed in the United States, but deep disparities persist between east and west from the continent.
All these efforts are threatened, among other things, by the multiplication of forest fires around the world – caused by the increase in temperatures and the multiplication of episodes of drought, linked to climate change – which cause peaks in air pollution.
In 2021, the historic fire season experienced by the California has led, for example, to air pollution in the Californian county of Plumas of the order of five times the threshold limit recommended by the WHO. THE megafires that ravaged Canada this summer have caused pollution peaks in Quebec and Ontario, and in several regions of the eastern United States.
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