When you hear about deadly air pollution, your mind is likely to turn to smog filled cityscapes and congested highways. Cities in India and China have become iconic for air pollution challenges and the health impacts they bring.
But city-dwellers in India and China are not the only ones facing worrying levels of air pollution. From Senegal to Peru, millions of people breathe polluted air every day, suffering a range of health implications. In 2012, an estimated 3.7 million people died from diseases brought on by breathing polluted air. And air pollution is not limited to big cities. Add to that pollution from household sources like cook stoves and heating, and that number goes up to about 7 million, according to the World Health Organization. The impact of pollution is felt across families, cities and societies in terms of health costs, impaired quality of life, lost productivity and missed economic opportunities.
A new World Bank report, Clean Air and Healthy Lungs: Enhancing the World Bank’s Approach to Air Quality Management, examines the Bank’s own experience working with developing countries to improve air quality over a decade, so that the institution and developing countries are better prepared to tackle this major challenge in the future.
The report comes on the heels of the formation of a Pollution Management and Environmental Health program whose focus is to help developing countries reduce pollution and build healthier and more economically stable communities. The Bank recently commissioned a review of its methodology for estimating the cost of air pollution damages that will provide stronger evidence for action on pollution. The Bank is also a partner of advocacy and knowledge sharing coalitions, such as the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, that seek to advance better understanding of pollution challenges and effective solutions.
Africa to join Asia?
Most people would say that pollution is probably the worst in Asia – and for good reason. The majority of the top 50 cities with the highest ambient air pollution concentration are in Asia based on the WHO’s 2014 air pollution database. But cities like Dakar in Senegal and the Delta cities in Egypt are also among the top 50, and Lagos, Nigeria, and Accra, Ghana, are not far behind.
“We need a proactive approach to addressing air pollution in Africa to avoid preventable deaths,” said Yewande Awe, World Bank Senior Environmental Engineer, who led the report. “We need to act now rather than responding to this crisis over time or when polluting patterns are locked into place.” The urban population of the continent is expected to triple to 1.23 billion between 2010 and 2050 – which means one in five people in the urbanized world will be in Africa.