Washington DC, September 8, 2016 -- Air pollution has emerged as the deadliest form of pollution and the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide. Those deaths cost the global economy about US$ 225 billion in lost labor income in 2013, a new study finds, pointing toward the economic burden of air pollution.
The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the economic case for action, a joint study of the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, seeks to estimate the costs of premature deaths related to air pollution, to facilitate decision making in the context of scarce resources. An estimated 125,000 lives were lost in the Middle East and North Africa countries in 2013 to diseases associated with outdoor and household air pollution, causing human suffering and reducing economic development. Egypt and Iran are among the worst affected countries, both in terms of estimated numbers of deaths and economic costs.
While pollution-related deaths strike mainly young children and the elderly, premature deaths also result in lost labor income for working-age men and women. The report finds that annual labor income losses in the Middle East and North Africa were more than US$9 billion in 2013. When looking at fatalities across all age groups through the lens of “welfare losses”, an approach commonly used to evaluate the costs and benefits of environmental regulations in a given country context, the aggregate cost of premature deaths attributable to air pollution was more than $ 5 trillion worldwide in 2013. In the Middle East and North Africa, welfare losses related to air pollution were about $154 billion, or the equivalent of about 2.2 percent of regional GDP.
“Air pollution is a challenge that threatens basic human welfare, damages natural and physical capital, and constrains economic growth. We hope this study will translate the cost of premature deaths into an economic language that resonates with policy makers so that more resources will be devoted to improving air quality. By supporting healthier cities and investments in cleaner sources of energy, we can reduce dangerous emissions, slow climate change, and most importantly save lives,” said Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank.
Deaths related to ambient air pollution have risen in heavily populated, fast-urbanizing regions, while deaths related to cooking and heating homes with solid fuels have remained constant despite development gains and improvements in health services. Diseases associated with both types of air pollution caused about 7 percent of all premature deaths in the Middle East and North Africa in 2013. Worldwide, air pollution is the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths, behind metabolic risks, dietary risks and tobacco smoke.
“This report and the burden of disease associated with air pollution are an urgent call to action,” said Dr. Chris Murray, Director of IHME. “Of all the different risk factors for premature deaths, this is one area, the air we breathe, over which individuals have little control. Policy makers in health and environment agencies, as well as leaders in various industries, are facing growing demands – and expectations – to address this problem.”
About 90 percent of the population in low and middle income countries are exposed to dangerous levels of ambient air pollution according to the Global Burden of Disease 2013, an international research effort led by IHME. Air pollution comes from many sources including dust, dirt, smoke, vapors, gases, microscopic liquid droplets, and even heavy metals. One of the most damaging pollutants is PM2.5, tiny particles about 1/30th the width of a human hair, which can penetrate deep into people’s lungs and are known to cause deadly illnesses such as lung cancer and heart disease.
The World Bank works with developing countries and development partners to reduce air pollution by supporting monitoring and analysis, regulatory reforms and interventions in sectors such as transport, energy and urban planning.