Deadly particulate matter: smog in Cairo
Photo: David Degner/Getty Images
According to a study, pollution is responsible for one in six premature deaths worldwide.
In 2019, nine million people died prematurely, according to a study published in the journal The Lancet on Wednesday.
The main causes are poor air quality and chemical pollutants such as lead.
Air pollution accounted for 6.7 million premature deaths, water pollution for 1.4 million and lead exposure for 900,000, according to the study.
The health impacts of pollution are "far greater than those of war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs and alcohol," said the authors, led by Richard Fuller of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP).
Pollution and waste entering the air, water and soil rarely lead directly to death.
However, they can cause serious heart disease, cancer, breathing problems, and acute diarrhea.
The number of premature deaths attributable to car, truck and industrial emissions has increased by 55 percent since 2000, particularly in Asia with its rapid industrialization and expanding cities.
There is progress, however, because fewer people are dying from dirt from primitive indoor fireplaces or from water contaminated with faeces.
Overall, the number of deaths has remained constant since a previous study in 2015.
Highest death rates in Central Africa
"The bad news is that it's not going down," said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.
Low- and middle-income countries are particularly affected.
They account for 92 percent of premature deaths and much of the associated economic loss.
According to the study, these were 4.6 trillion dollars (4.38 trillion euros) in 2019 and thus about 6 percent of global economic output.
According to the study, 2.4 million people die prematurely every year in India and 2.2 million in China.
Relative to population, African countries such as Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger still have the highest death rates, despite sharp declines: around 300 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, mostly due to polluted water.
However, countries characterized by coal power, such as North Korea with a particularly strong increase, and EU member Bulgaria were also among the top ten.
Brunei, Qatar and Iceland had the lowest death rates at 15 to 23, compared to a global average of 117.
»Every single one is an unnecessary death«
“All of these are preventable deaths.
Every single one of them is an unnecessary death," said Lynn Goldman, a health researcher at the George Washington University School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study.
According to her, the figures are calculated sensibly, if at all too conservatively: the true number of victims of environmental pollution is probably even higher.
"The fact that lead exposure is increasing, especially in poorer countries, and the number of deaths is rising is alarming," lead author Fuller told AFP.
Algeria was the last country in the world to ban lead in petrol in 2021.
Nonetheless, the pollutant continues to enter the environment, particularly through improper recycling of lead-acid batteries and e-waste.
Awareness of the problem and funding to fight it have increased only slightly since 2015, Fuller said.
“If we don't manage to grow economically in a clean and green way, we're doing something terribly wrong.” The solution to each of these problems is known.
»What is missing is the political will.«