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Air Pollution Exposure and COVID-19: Evidence and Unanswered Questions

June 11, 2020

Virtual Seminar and Conversation

Presentations: Wheeler | Andrée | Hansell

  • Understanding how COVID-19 infections evolve spatially as well as over time can help countries more effectively confront the ongoing pandemic. Air pollution is a key mediator: people living in areas with higher levels of air pollution face a greater risk of infection and of suffering more severe infection. Two factors are at play: (1) preexisting pulmonary illnesses may increase susceptibility to COVID-19 infection; and (2) higher concentrations of fine particulate matter may increase exposure to the coronavirus.

    In the first presentation of this seminar, David Wheeler will provide insights from ongoing work to construct an econometric model of COVID-19 spread that includes air pollution effects. Then, Bo Pieter Johannes Andrée will outline scientific understanding and unanswered questions regarding the connections between air pollution and COVID-19. Finally, Anna Hansell will discuss empirical evidence from recent studies of the connection between air pollution exposure and COVID-19 risks.  


    ChairRichard Damania
    Chief Economist, Sustainable Development Practice Group, World Bank

    David Wheeler
    Senior Fellow, World Resources Institute

    Bo Pieter Johannes Andrée
    Strategy, Analytics, Finance & Knowledge Unit, World Bank

    Anna Hansell
    Professor, Environmental Epidemiology; Director, Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability, University of Leicester, United Kingdom.


    Somik Lall
    Global Lead on Territorial and Spatial Development, World Bank

    Urvashi Narain
    Lead Economist, Environment, Natural Resources, and Blue Economy Global Practice, World Bank


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    David Wheeler

    David Wheeler is a former Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute, where his responsibilities included the Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) data system that generates regularly updated alerts of tropical forest clearing as part of WRI’s Global Forest Watch. Prior to joining WRI, David had over 30 years of experience addressing numerous environment-and-development issues as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development and a lead economist in the World Bank's Development Research Group. Prior to joining the Bank, David was a faculty member in the Boston University Economics Department. He has worked in a variety of countries including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Ghana.


    Bo Pieter Johannes Andrée

    Bo Andrée is an Extended Term Consultant in the Strategy, Analytics, Financing Solutions and Knowledge unit at the World Bank, where his work focuses on crisis analytics. He also has worked for OECD, the European Commission, Asian Development Bank and the Dutch Government. He holds a BSc in Geology and Economics and an MSc in Spatial, Transport and Environmental Economics from the Free University of Amsterdam. His most recent book is “Theory and Application of Dynamic Spatial Time Series Models”.


    Anna Hansell

    Since July 2018, Anna Hansell has been Professor of Environmental Epidemiology and inaugural Director of the Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability at the University of Leister. From 2010-2018 she was Assistant Director at the UK Small Area Health Statistics Unit, Imperial College London, conducting national spatial studies using a secure database of over 600 million patient health records. A public-health clinician prior earning her PhD in epidemiology from London University, Professor Hansell has published more than 200 scientific articles on a variety of topics including air pollution and public health, respiratory disease epidemiology, low-level environmental exposures, and health impacts of environmental noise. She is a member of the Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollution, a scientific advisory group to the UK government, and she serves on the editorial board of several journals.


    Richard Damania

    Richard Damania became the Chief Economist of the Sustainable Development Practice Group on March 1, 2020. He previously has held several senior positions in the World Bank including Senior Economic Advisor in the Water Practice, and Lead Economist in the Environment Practice working in the Bank’s Africa, South Asia and Latin America and Caribbean Regions. Prior to joining the World Bank, he was Professor of Economics at the University of Adelaide. He has published extensively with over 100 papers in scientific journals, and he has held numerous advisory positions with governments and in international organizations as well as serving on the editorial board of several journals.


    Urvashi Narain

    Urvashi Narain is a lead economist in the World Bank’s Environment, Natural Resources, and Blue Economy global practice, with over 20 years’ experience on issues at the intersection of environment and development policy. Her areas of expertise include air pollution, watershed management, and nature-based tourism. She led the 2016 World Bank publication The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action, that has influenced World Bank operations across South Asia, Middle East and North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia regions. Currently she co-leads the Environmental Economics Community of Practice, a group of some 40 environmental economists across the World Bank. She has published widely in peer-reviewed journals including Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Environmental and Resource Economics, and Land Economics.


    Somik Lall

    Somik V. Lall is a lead economist for urban development and the World Bank’s global lead on territorial development solutions, leading a global research program on urbanization and spatial development. He is a recognized expert on development policy related to urban and territorial competitiveness, agglomeration and clusters, and infrastructure, with over 20 years’ global experience, most notably in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He was a core team member of World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography, and he is the lead author of the World Bank’s flagship report on urbanization, Planning, Connecting & Financing Cities—Now. He also has more than 40 publications in peer-reviewed journals including the Journal of Development Economics and Journal of Urban Economics.

Event Details

  • Date: June 11, 2020
  • Time: 11:00am - 12:30pm (ET/Washington, D.C. Time)
  • CONTACT: Michelle Chester