Nine million deaths due to pollution in 2019 and still increasing from modern types of pollution. But little has been done to deal with this public health crisis till now. The observation comes up in the latest Lancet report on Pollution and Health.
The report points out that the figures of 2019 was equivalent to one in six deaths worldwide, a number virtually unchanged since the last analysis in 2015. The new report is an update to The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health published in The Lancet Planetary Health. It states that although the number of deaths from pollution sources associated with extreme poverty (such as indoor air pollution and water pollution) have decreased, these reductions are offset by increased deaths attributable to industrial pollution (such as ambient air pollution and chemical pollution).
Lead author Richard Fuller said: “The health impacts of pollution remain enormous, and low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt of this burden. Despite its enormous health, social and economic impacts, pollution prevention is largely overlooked in the international development agenda.”
“Attention and funding has only minimally increased since 2015, despite well-documented increases in public concern about pollution and its health effects,” Fueller said.
Meanwhile, Co-authorProfessor Philip Landrigan, Director, Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College noted; “Pollution is still the largest existential threat to human and planetary health and jeopardizes the sustainability of modern societies. Preventing pollution can also slow climate change – achieving a double benefit for planetary health – and our report calls for a massive, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.”
Of the nine million pollution-attributable deaths, air pollution (both household and ambient) remained responsible for the greatest number of deaths at 6.67 million worldwide. Water pollution was responsible for 1.36 million premature deaths.
DECLINE IN DEATHS
The decline in deaths from traditional pollution since 2000 (household air pollution from solid fuels and unsafe water) is most evident in Africa. This was because of improvements in water supply and sanitation, antibiotics and treatments, and cleaner fuels, the report said. However, case has been offset by a substantial increase in deaths from exposure to such as ambient air pollution, lead pollution, and other forms of chemical pollution across all regions over the past 20 years. This is particularly evident in Southeast where rising levels of industrial pollution are combined with ageing populations and increasing numbers of people exposed.
Ambient air pollution was responsible for 4.5 million deaths in 2019, up from 4.2 million deaths in 2015 and 2.9 million in 2000. Deaths from hazardous chemical pollutants increased from 0.9 million in 2000, to 1.7 million in 2015, to 1.8 million in 2019, with 900,000 deaths attributable to lead pollution in 2019. Overall, deaths from modern pollution have increased by 66 percent in the past two decades, from an estimated 3.8 million deaths in 2000 to 6.3 million deaths in 2019. Figures on deaths from chemical pollutants are likely to be underestimates as only a small number of manufactured chemicals in commerce have been adequately tested for safety or toxicity
Excess deaths due to pollution have led to economic losses totalling US$ 4:6 trillion in 2019, equating to 6.2% of global economic output. The study also notes pollution’s deep inequity, with 92% of pollution-related deaths, and the greatest burden of pollution’s economic losses, occurring in low-income and middle-income countries.
• International organisations and national governments need to continue expanding the focus on pollution as one of the triumvirate of global environmental issues, alongside climate change and biodiversity.
• Encourage the use of the health dimension as a key driver in policy and investment decisions, using available GBD information.
• Affected countries must focus resources on addressing air pollution, lead pollution, and chemical pollution, which are the key issues in modern pollution.
• A massive rapid transition to wind and solar energy will reduce ambient air pollution in addition to slowing down climate change.
• Private and government donors need to allocate funding for pollution management to support HPAP prioritisation processes, monitoring, and programme implementation. ODA support should involve LMICs in setting priorities through these processes.
• All sectors need to integrate pollution control into plans to address other key threats such as climate, biodiversity, food, and agriculture. All sectors need to support a stronger stand on pollution in planetary health, OneHealth, and energy transition work.
• International organisations need to establish an SPI for pollution, similar to those for climate and biodiversity, initially for chemicals, waste, and air pollution.
• International organisations need to revise pollution tracking for the SDGs to correctly represent the effect of chemicals pollution including heavy metals. The reporting systems should allow burden of disease estimates to be used in the absence of national data.
• International organisations and national governments need to invest in generating data and analytics to underpin evidence-based interventions to address environmental health risks. Priority investments should include the establishment of reliable ground-level air quality monitoring networks, along with lead baseline and monitoring systems, and other chemical monitoring systems.
• International organisations and national governments need to use uniform and appropriate sampling protocols to collect evidence on exposure to hazardous chemicals such as lead mercury, or chromium, or chromium, which can be compared or generalised across LMICS.
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Ministry of Environment of Sweden supported the study with support from the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) and Pure Earth.