Why is air pollution a bigger topic in developing countries than in developed nations?
While it is undeniable that air pollution affects everyone, scientific studies, the news, and even international agencies make it seem as though it is more of a significant issue in developing countries than in developed ones. What is the basis of this depiction? Is this truly a misconception, or is there some merit to be had of this portrayal? Read on to find out.
Air pollution inequality exists
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution kills around 7 million people worldwide every year, with 9 out of 10 individuals breathing air that exceed WHO pollutant guideline limits. In particular, low- and middle-income countries are the most impacted. Based on the WHO’s 2016 urban air quality database, 98% of cities in developing countries with over 100,000 inhabitants fail to meet WHO air quality guidelines. In developed countries, however, that applies to only 56% of cities. In addition, ~90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, of which approximately 2 out of 3 take place in WHO’s Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions.
The reason for this disparity is due to the difference in government actions and financial resources. Lower-income countries tend to have lax regulations regarding air quality and vehicle emissions. Coal power plants are prevalent due to industrialization. All these lack basic air pollution controls such as filters and scrubbers which decrease the amount of particulates being released into the atmosphere. In large cities, the poorest live in informal settlements most often near rubbish dumps, which are a major source of air pollution. All this contributes to the negative health and economic effects poor air quality has on a nation.
Indoor air pollution disproportionately affects developing nations
Of the 7 million deaths worldwide, 3.8 million are the result of indoor air pollution, most of which occur in low- to middle-income countries. This is due to inefficient cooking, heating, and lighting practices which use kerosene and solid fuels such wood, crop wastes, charcoal, coal, and dung. These release toxic air pollutants which have severe health implications. People from sub-Saharan Africa, South and East Asia, and the Western Pacific experience the highest rates of health diseases from indoor air pollution, especially in rural households. Women, children, and the elderly in particular are at higher risk due to their role in performing domestic tasks, which include gathering and processing fuel, tending the hearth, and cooking meals.
The lack of resources and access to cleaner fuels and devices not only puts lower-income individuals and households at risk, but it also undermines their economic development. The time spent on fuel collection and hearth maintenance due to lack of a reliable lighting, heating, and cooking source limits income generation, schooling, and other opportunities both during and outside of daylight hours.
Air pollution affects all
Ultimately, air pollution is an issue that affects all regardless of how developed a nation is. This is because its sources are universal: vehicles, factories, households, agriculture, landfills, and even natural phenomena.
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