|Source: State of Global Air 2017|
PM2.5 Pollution Deaths:
More than half of the 4.2 million deaths attributed to PM2.5 pollution occur in just two countries: India and China. The next two countries accounting for the highest pollution-related mortality are Russia with 136,900, Pakistan with 135,100 and Bangladesh with 122,400 deaths in 2015, according to the report.
India and Bangladesh experienced some of the largest increases in PM2.5- attributable mortality, on the order of 50% to 60%. India (1.09 million deaths) now approaches China (1.11 million deaths) in the number of deaths attributable to PM2.5.
|Source: State of Global Air 2017|
Among the world’s 10 most populous countries and the EU, the biggest increase (14% to 25%) in seasonal average population-weighted concentrations of ozone over the last 25 years were experienced in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Brazil.
The report said decreases in exposure in Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Pakistan were offset by population growth and population aging, resulting in net increases in attributable mortality.
In the United States and the European Union, reductions in exposure over the past 25 years have offset the contributions of population growth and aging, resulting in net decreases in PM2.5-attributable mortality (by 17% and 22%, respectively).
A similar pattern contributed to a net decrease of 34% in PM2.5-attributable mortality in Nigeria, although the reductions in exposure were likely due to factors different from those in the United States and EU. Within the EU, this pattern held in all member countries except Italy, Greece, and Malta, where attributable mortality increased from 1990 to 2015, according to the report.
|Haze Under Himalayas Source: NASA|
South Asia's Vulnerability:
South Asia is particularly susceptible to pollutants that hang in the air for extended periods of time. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has recently released images of dull gray haze hovering over northern India and Pakistan, and parts of Bangladesh. It is believed that emissions from solid fuel burning, industrial pollutants and farm clearing fires get trapped along the southern edge of the Himalayas. NASA Earth Observatory explains this phenomenon as follows:
"The haze visible in this image likely results from a combination of agricultural fires, urban and industrial pollution, and a regional temperature inversion. Most of the time, air higher in the atmosphere is cooler than air near the planet’s surface, and this configuration allows warm air to rise from the ground and disperse pollutants. In the wintertime, however, cold air frequently settles over northern India, trapping warmer air underneath. The temperature inversion traps pollutants along with warm air at the surface, contributing to the buildup of haze."
Urgent Actions Needed:
South Asian governments need to act to deal with rapidly rising particulate pollution jointly. Some of the steps they need to take are as follows:
1. Reduce the use of solid fuels such as cow dung, wood and coal to limit particulate matter released into the atmosphere.
2. Impose higher emission standards on industries and vehicles through regulations.
3. Increase forest cover by planting more trees.
4. Encourage the use of more renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, etc.
The cost of acting now may seem high but it will turn out out to be a lot more expensive to deal with extraordinary disease burdens resulting from rising air pollution.
South Asia accounts for more than a third of all PM2.5 pollution related deaths in the world. The sources of particulate pollution range from solid fuel burning to crop clearing fires and use of dirty fuels in vehicles and industries. Recognition of the growing problem is urgent. Failure to act could be very costly in terms of human health.
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